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Should medically assisted suicide be legal in Canada?

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The Quebec government introduced a bill Wednesday permitting medically assisted death, saying it would address "excessive suffering" of dying patients. It would, if passed, be the first of its kind in Canada. 

 Should Canada have legal physician-assisted suicide? (CBC)
The province's junior health minister, Véronique Hivon, tabled Bill 52 addressing medically assisted and other end-of-life issues in the national assembly. 

"I believe we are capable of holding this debate at this time. Society is ready for it," said Stéphane Bédard, Quebec government house leader. 

Since 2009, the Quebec legislature has been studying the issue of medically assisted death, which is currently prohibited by the Criminal Code of Canada. 

The bill is meant to address assisted suicide, palliative sedation and some forms of euthanasia with explicit consent of the patient. It would be a Canadian first, but four states have "dying with dignity" legislation: Oregon, Washington, Montana and, most recently, Vermont.

The federal government has made it clear it has no intention of changing the law, announcing last summer it would appeal a June ruling by British Columbia's Supreme Court that partially struck down a ban on assisted suicide. The Quebec government has said that medically assisted suicide is a health-care issue and, therefore, a provincial matter. 

As well, a report released in January by a panel of legal experts led by Jean-Pierre Ménard argued that people's decision-making autonomy should prevail over the interests of the state.

But the issue is emotionally charged and many people - including some doctors -  say that causing another person's premature death is and should be a crime. 

"As human beings, we know that if you commit an act to make a person to stop breathing, for the pulse to stop, you've killed at person. To feel easy about taking a life is a scary situation for anyone to be in," said Dr. David Bacon on CBC Montreal radio morning show Daybreak
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But proponents of the law say some end-of-life procedures are already being performed and the law gives health-care providers protection of a legal framework. 

Dr. Marcel Boisvert, a retired palliative-care physician also speaking on Daybreak, said the law would also contain safeguards for patients, as outlined in the Ménard report. 

"When the team agrees at the patient's request that it's time for terminal sedation because nothing else works, you have all the conditions to proceed if it is the patient's wish with physician-assisted dying," said Boisvert. 

Should medically assisted suicide be legal in Canada? Do you think it's up to the provinces to decide the matter as a health issue or does it fall to Ottawa as a criminal issue? Let us know what you think.

(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' responses.)

Tags: Canada, Health, law, Politics

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