Bioethics Blogs

Proposed Canadian legislation on medical assistance in dying

Leah Hutt summarizes the eligibility criteria and safeguards for medical assistance in dying, as proposed by the Government of Canada.


On April 14, 2016, the Government of Canada proposed legislation to exempt medical assistance in dying from the Criminal Code, under certain circumstances. The legislation responds to the February 2015 Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous declaration in Carter v. Canada. The Court determined that the Criminal Code prohibitions on physician assistance in dying violated the Charter and it gave the Federal government until June 6, 2016 to develop legislation.

Under the proposed legislation, medical assistance in dying includes situations where a physician or nurse practitioner administers a substance that causes death, or prescribes or provides a substance that the person may self-administer to cause their own death.  Physicians, nurse practitioners, and others who assist in this process are protected from criminal liability where they comply with the legislation.

The proposed legislation lists several eligibility criteria for access to medical assistance in dying. Persons must be 18 years of age or older and eligible for publicly-funded health care in Canada. They must make a voluntary request and give informed consent. They must have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability and be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability. The legislation further stipulates that the illness, disease, disability, or the state of decline causes enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to the individual and cannot be relieved under conditions they consider acceptable. Finally, a natural death is reasonably foreseeable (but a prognosis as to specific length of time before death is not necessary).

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