Trudeau Defends Restrictive Approach to Assisted Death

Such 'weighty questions' should be reflected upon responsibly, says PM
April 20, 2016 Updated: April 20, 2016

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending his government’s restrictive approach to legalizing medical assistance in dying, arguing that it’s a momentous change that needs to be implemented slowly and cautiously.

The PM made the argument April 19 after some Liberal backbenchers expressed concern that the government’s proposed new law does not comply with the charter of rights and falls short of what the Supreme Court ordered in last year’s so-called Carter decision, when it struck down the ban on doctor-assisted death.

Trudeau acknowledged that critics have denounced the bill for failing to extend the right to an assisted death to mature minors or to individuals suffering solely from mental illnesses. It also doesn’t allow people diagnosed with competence-eroding conditions like dementia to make advance requests for medical help to end their lives.

These “very, very weighty questions” will take time to reflect upon properly, he said, but time is something the government, facing a June 6 deadline from the top court, doesn’t have.

“This is the first step, it’s a big one. Some people thought it should be bigger, I respect that,” Trudeau said.

Still, he said he hopes MPs and senators will recognize “how momentous this step is and take it one step at a time as we move forward in a responsible manner because this is one of those things you can’t undo.”

In the Carter decision, the Supreme Court said medical help in dying should be available to clearly consenting adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions who are enduring physical or mental suffering that they find intolerable.

The government’s more restrictive bill would require a person to be a consenting adult, at least 18 years of age, in “an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and incurable disease, illness, or disability, and for whom a natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

Advocates of medically assisted dying believe the bill disregards the court ruling and have accused the Liberals, who profess to be the party of the charter, of authoring the kind of restrictive law they would have expected from the previous Conservative government.

“I would agree with them if the bill doesn’t change and it’s a whipped vote,” said Toronto Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to Trudeau.

However, he argued that the government is open to having a freewheeling debate on the bill and to making some changes, and it has vowed to let MPs vote freely.

“I think now you’re looking at a process where Canadians, through their members of Parliament, can effect the changes they want to see. … That’s the way government’s supposed to work,” Vaughan said.

From The Canadian Press