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April 6, 2015

Assisted suicide is now one of the main political issues facing Canada, yet the federal government will not discuss it. The Feb. 6 Supreme Court of Canada decision gave Parliament one year to pass a law to ensure mentally competent adults who suffer intolerably and permanently are able to take their own lives with a doctor's assistance.

At this writing – seven weeks later – the issue has fallen off the map and no legislative attempt to respond to the Supreme Court ruling appears to be in the offing.

The issue is a political hot potato which Prime Minister Stephen Harper's governing Conservatives do not want to touch. They appear to be operating by the old adage that a hot potato, left untouched, will soon become a cold potato.

Some issues are left well enough alone. But not this one. The government has a clear moral responsibility to introduce legislation that responds to the Supreme Court decision. Without legislation, the situation regarding assistance in dying could easily devolve into a free-for-all.

Further, such legislation should be as restrictive as possible, written with an eye to protecting human life and closing potential loopholes that would allow for unrestricted killing.

In the Netherlands, the first nation to legalize euthanasia, 4,188 people's lives were ended under the Euthanasia Act in 2012, about three per cent of the deaths in the country. Between 300 and 1,000 more lives were taken by physicians outside the law in cases when the doctor, not the patient, decided death was in the patient's best interests.

Political parties in the Netherlands, however, refuse to make an issue of the illegal termination of life without request. It has become politically accepted.

Canada needs political action that is more responsible than this. It needs the government to bring in restrictive legislation, and it needs the government to police that legislation once it has been approved. Anything else is a gross dereliction of duty.