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Canada’s landmark new law will provide some comfort to the terminally ill

Terminally ill Canadians will be entitled to voluntary euthanasia following a landmark legal move. On Friday, Canada’s House of Commons passed a controversial law that will legally help people facing imminent death to end their suffering.

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As soon as it is formally approved by the acting head of state, Governor General David Johnston, Canada will become one of the few nations in the world to legalise physican-assisted dying.

Even so, some campaigners believe the scope of the law is too limiting, as it is restricted to the terminally ill and excludes those suffering with degenerative conditions, like multiple sclerosis.

In order to get a doctor’s help to die, a patient must be eligible for government-funded health care (a requirement limiting assisted suicides to Canadians and permanent residents, to prevent suicide tourism); be a mentally competent adult aged 18 or older; have a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability; be in an “advanced state of irreversible decline,” with enduring and intolerable suffering; and have a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death (though no specific timeline is required).

It’s a personal issue for Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: after his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, died in 2000 after battling prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, the prime minister said his father would have liked to end his life with dignity.

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Other countries who have legalised voluntary euthanasia include the Netherlands (2002), Belgium (2002) and Luxembourg (2008). In others, assisted suicide is allowed under certain circumstances. In Germany, assisted suicide is legal as long as the lethal drug is taken without any help, such as someone guiding or supporting the patient’s hand. Switzerland allows assisted suicide as long as there are no “self-seeking motives” involved, and has permitted organisations such as Dignitas and Exit to provide assisted dying services for a fee.

In 2014, Belgium became the first country to legalise euthanasia for children. While there is no age limit for terminally ill minors seeking a lethal injection, they must be conscious of their decision, close to death, suffering beyond any medical help, and have the assent of their parents to end their lives.

Canada’s move will stir up controversy: both from those who oppose euthanasia and those who don’t think the new law goes far enough, but for those who are terminally ill and wish to end their suffering and have control over their deaths, it will be very welcome news.

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