Canada proposed Thursday legalizing assisted suicide for patients with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions, but would limit the law to Canadian citizens to diminish the likelihood having so-called suicide tourists travel north of the border.
The proposal, backed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would allow physicians to aid seriously ill adults who wish to end their lives without risking prosecution. Canada’s Supreme Court last year eliminated rules that had barred doctors from helping patients die, and Mr. Trudeau’s administration was subsequently allowed to propose a legislative solution, which was unveiled Thursday.
“This is a difficult & deeply personal issue, and our government has carefully studied how best to support those in great suffering,” Mr. Trudeau tweeted.
Health Minister Jane Philpott called it an “historic day for our country.”
“This law will have an impact on patients, their families and their health care providers,” she said.
The legislation must be reviewed Canada’s House and Senate before it is brought to a vote.
Before officials even announced the proposal, however, a senior government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that non-Canadians would be excluded, reducing the odds of transforming the country becoming a destination for individuals seeking to die with dignity.
Although assisted suicide is currently legal in five U.S. states, the majority of Americans reside in places where doctors risk punishment if they’re caught enabling a patient’s death. When California begins to allow assisted suicide this June, 51 million Americans, or roughly one in six, will live in a state where doctors can legally help patients end their lives.
Albania, Colombia, Germany, Japan and Switzerland have alllegalized assisted suicide, and studies suggest Canadian authorities have good reason to believe the proposed legislation could prompt a surge in “suicide tourism.” A 2014 paper published in the journal Law, Ethics and Medicine concluded that more than 600 foreigners traveled to Switzerland between 2008 and 2012 to make use of the European nation’s aid-in-dying laws, including upwards of 200 annual “suicide tourists.”
“In the UK, at least, ‘going to Switzerland’ has become a euphemism for (assisted suicide),” wrote experts at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Zurich, who authored the study.
Roughly 77 percent of Canadians favor legalizing assisted suicide, according to a poll published in August.