Bioethics Blogs

Canada Backpedals on Medical Aid in Dying

On April 14, Canada’s justice minister presented to the House of Commons a bill to govern medical assistance in dying. The bill did not follow the direction of the Supreme Court of Canada, which stated that competent, mentally ill people and people who do not have a terminal illness are eligible. Had the bill included such patients and had it followed the advice of a Special Joint Committee of the House and Commons and Senate also to include mature minors, then Canada would have been on track to enact one of the most permissive aid-in-dying laws in the world. But if this bill becomes law, constitutional challenge is likely.

Under the bill, patients are eligible for medical aid in dying if they are at least 18 years old, have a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and have made an informed and voluntary request. To prevent Canada from becoming a destination for medical tourism, patients must also qualify for government funded health care. 

The bill states that patients have a “grievous and irremediable” illness if they have a serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability and they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline. The serious and incurable ailment or state of decline causes enduring physical or intolerable psychological suffering that cannot be relieved by means that are acceptable to the patients. Further, their natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” but without an estimate of the time remaining.

The bill proposes safeguards, which include having two practitioners, who can be physicians or nurse practitioners, serve as gatekeepers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.