Canada MPs Want Parliament to Debate Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 30, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canada MPs Want Parliament to Debate Bill Legalizing Assisted Suicide Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 30, 2006

Ottawa, Canada ( — Canada could be headed for a nasty and emotional debate on the issue of assisted suicide if a group of members of the Canadian parliament have their way. The MPs are supporting a private member’s bill from Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde.

Lalonde proposed the bill before the Canadian elections earlier this year, but it became lost in the shuffle surrounding Canada’s choosing the Conservative Party to lead its government.

But now MPs who back legalizing the grisly practice are ready to get the measure back in the public limelight.

"Having seen what’s happening in other countries, it’s important to have the debate, a large debate among the population," Lalonde told the Winnipeg Sun newspaper. She recently returned from a trip to Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal.

After some fine-tuning to her bill to address some concerns other MPs brought to her, Lalonde says she’s ready to bring it up for a debate.

But Mike Storeshaw, director of communications for Justice Minister Vic Toews, told the Sun that the government isn’t looking to debate the issue. If it does, Conservative lawmakers would likely have a free vote.

The Canadian government has already begun to deal with end of life issues and the Sun newspaper obtained government papers showing a concern that cases of involuntary euthanasia are occurring more frequently. The documents say it’s hard to prosecute such cases and prove that a doctor was intended to lessen a pain with medication rather than take a patient’s life.

Don Babey, executive director of the pro-euthanasia Dying With Dignity, told the Sun he thinks assisted suicide is happening more often than most people think. He points to a report showing 15 percent of Manitoba doctors having killed patients via drugs.

"This is already happening, and there should be an adequate mechanism for doctors to do it legally," Babey said.

But Dr. Joseph Ayoub, an oncologist who also teaches medical ethics at the University of Montreal, told the Winnipeg paper that assisted suicide should remain illegal because it denies respect for human life.

"Assisted suicide does not honor human dignity," he said. "Especially now in the modern era of medicine when there are ways to heal patients physically and psychologically."

"First you start with patients with severe disease like cancer at the end of their life, then you come to disabled people, then you come to handicapped children and old people in homes," he told the newspaper. "It could become like you are selecting people to terminate their lives."

Last year, disability activist Mark Pickup met with members of Parliament for a luncheon and told them that any attempt to legalize euthanasia represents blatant discrimination against disabled people.
Pickup, who lives with multiple sclerosis, said few people talk about pursuing assisted suicide for people without disabilities or terminal diseases.

"Only when we talk about disability, do we talk about the right for self-determination," he told 30 people representing the government, including a dozen MPs and staff for others.

Polling data has shown that support for assisted suicide in Canada is diminishing.

Pollara, a Canadian polling firm, conducted a survey in August 2003 that found that 49 percent of Canadians backed assisted suicide while 37 percent opposed it.

That’s down from a 1997 poll taken shortly after Robert Latimer was sentenced for killing his disabled 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, found 70 percent of Canadians said assisted suicide was allowable.

Canada law currently provides for a maximum of 14 years in prison under Section 241 of the Criminal Code for cases of assisted suicide. Euthanasia, when someone causes the death of a patient without consent, counts as murder under the country’s law.

Related web sites:
Canada effort against assisted suicide –