Physician-assisted dying: the five stages that brought us to this point
DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL
The federal government is poised to introduce a new law on physician-assisted death on Thursday. It has been running out of time to craft a new law after a Supreme Court ruling struck down the old one last February. Since then, politicians, legal and medical experts and advocates for the disabled have grappled with tough questions about when doctors can end the lives of patients suffering from painful or debilitating conditions. Here are some of the highlights
1. THE COURT RULING
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously on Feb. 6, 2015, that Canadians have the constitutional right to decide how they die in some circumstances, because the "sanctity of life" also includes the "passage into death." The court gave the federal government a February deadline to come up with a new law.
2. THE ELECTION
Stephen Harper's Conservative government was reluctant to respond to the court's ruling. A consultative panel was appointed, but its work was suspended when an election was called, leaving the assisted-dying question to play out on the campaign trail. An Aug. 23-24 poll from Forum Research found that 77 per cent of Canadians supported legal physician-assisted suicide, and a majority supported it regardless of what party they intended to vote for.
3. OTTAWA ASKS FOR TIME
In December, newly minted Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould requested a six-month extension from the Supreme Court, with the backing of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. In January, the court granted an extension until June 6, but compromised by saying people seeking a doctor's note to end their lives could apply to a judge for permission during that time.
4. THE PROVINCES MOVE AHEAD
Quebec faced legal obstacles to implementing its own assisted-dying law after a Superior Court justice granted an injunction to put the law on hold, but eventually the courts backed Quebec's plan. In January, a Quebec City patient was the first to die with the assistance of a doctor; other deaths followed in March in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.
5. OTTAWA'S PLAN COMES TOGETHER
The Trudeau cabinet got a clearer blueprint for an assisted-dying law in February, when a joint parliamentary committee issued a report on the issue. Its 21 recommendations included making assisted dying available to people with mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions, and offered a process for how requests should be made and how doctors should decide who is eligible. Meanwhile, the government also debated how MPs should vote on the new legislation: In February, Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said the government planned to whip the vote, but the government backed away from that decision a week later; yesterday, The Globe reported that the Liberals decided to let MPs vote with their consciences on the issue.