Canada forges ahead with consultation on assisted dying for the incurably suffering

Under its current rules, Canadian adults who are of sound mind can voluntarily request an assisted death, if they suffer from a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and are in a state of irreversible decline – resulting in intolerable suffering and a reasonably foreseeable death.

But, following a judgment from a court last September, the requirement of a ‘reasonably foreseeable death’, which had prevented adults with an incurable but non-life threatening illness from having an assisted death, was struck down. The decision, which was suspended until 11 March to allow the Government to appeal, ruled such a narrow restriction discriminated against those living in constant and unrelievable pain.

Deciding not to appeal the judgment, the Government has now given Canadians until 27 January to indicate whether the change in the law should be accompanied with additional safeguards, including:

A requirement that a patient has exhausted all other treatment options before requesting an assisted death
Mandatory psychological or psychiatric evaluations
Special training for doctors to assess the risk of vulnerability

Among other questions, the consultation also asks Canadians whether assisted deaths should be permitted for: patients with Alzheimer’s who indicated they wished to die prior to losing capacity, adults solely suffering from a psychiatric illness, and patients under the age of 18 but who are deemed able to make their own medical decisions.

Even without the court ruling, these questions were due for investigation in 2020 as part of a mandatory five-year review. It is expected they as well as issues such as the state of palliative care will be covered by a parliamentary committee later in June.

Robert Ince, a spokesperson for the campaign group My Death, My Decision said:

‘In any modern and compassionate society, adults who face constant and unbearable suffering shouldn’t be forced to endure unnecessary pain – regardless of how long they are expected to live. Fundamentally, they deserve a right to decide how, where, and when they die.

We warmly welcome Canada’s decision to embrace this reality and commend their commitment to ensuring the right balance between respecting autonomy and robust safeguards.

For too long, whilst progressive nations including Canada have forged ahead, Britain’s politicians have dragged their feet on assisted dying – preferring to leave it in the too-hard to resolve category. But, with public opinion at a record high ( nearly 90% favour a change in the law) and more than one person a week now travelling abroad to end their life, the time has now come for Parliament to take action.