Harper ‘suicide squad’ returns from European vacation

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a news conference at Rideau Hall in Ottawa August 2, 2015.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a news conference at Rideau Hall in Ottawa August 2, 2015. REUTERS/Blair Gable

What do you do when you have to come up with assisted-dying legislation and you have no clue where to start?

You go to Europe, of course. That’s the Harper Government’s solution to try to beat a fast-approaching deadline, after the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the ban on doctor-assisted suicide last February. In its ruling from Carter v. Canada (AG), the top court gave Harper a year to craft new legislation.

This topic has been hotly debated for decades, but the court finally acceded that the ban infringed on s.7 of the Charter — the section that deals with life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived of those fundamental principles of justice.

However, it appears the government has hit a road block in trying to come up with new rules, and there are now just a few months left to get this new law into place. In trying to figure out a way to come up with new statute, a panel was formed that is charged with investigating legislative options.

Yet, where do you start when you have no previous model for this type of statute in Canada? After all, suicide is illegal here, and that used to include doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill and wretchedly suffering people, regardless of how much the ill were suffering.

The three-member panel recently undertook an 11-day study of the legislation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, where they have instituted codified civil laws for assistant-death legislation for years.

Having consulted a variety of experts in the fields of medicine, bio-ethics, law and help groups, the panel has still not quite figured out what this type of law needs to look like.

One has to wonder though whether the trip to Europe will make that much difference when it comes time to writing the new law. Europe has a civil law system and Canada a common law system, and there are significant differences between the two, which also means there is a difference in how laws are written and interpreted.

So now that they have returned from Europe somewhat wiser, the panel is asking the public for help on how to form the new regulations. You are strongly encouraged to speak out if you have thoughts or opinions on what the rules should look like.

You can share your thoughts on the new legislation at the panel’s website at: www.externalpanel.ca.

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