Canadian doctors being ‘increasingly’ asked about assisted suicide for children

Doctors in Canada have reported an increase in conversations about legalising assisted suicide for children – just a year after the practice was first allowed for adults.

A new survey by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) claimed that its members are “increasingly” being asked by parents about the option of helping children to kill themselves.

After being legalised by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in June 2016, an independent review examining the possibility of assisted suicide for children began. This review is expected to be presented to the Canadian Parliament in December 2018.

Divided opinion

The CPS survey revealed that 118 doctors had “exploratory discussions” about assisted suicide with parents, involving over 400 children.

And thirty-five doctors said they had discussions with 60 children under the age of 18 in the past year. Nine doctors also said they had received “explicit requests” from children for assisted suicide.

But lead author of the survey Dr Dawn Davies said doctors are divided on the issue. One third of respondents said they were opposed to assisted suicide for under-18s under any circumstances.

The CPS said the survey was sent to about 2,600 doctors with a response rate of around 40 per cent.

World’s first

Belgium became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia for children in 2014, after introducing the practice for adults in 2002.

Last year, a teenager became the world’s first child to be legally euthanised. The 17-year-old was deemed to be terminally ill and in the final stages of life.

At the time, Alistair Thompson, of the UK campaign group Care Not Killing, said it was a “truly shocking case”.

“The moment you say they can in certain circumstances kill their patients it is always going to be debatable about exactly how old or mentally competent they must be.”

‘Slippery slope’

In the UK, a university lecturer who has authored a book on assisted suicide has warned that legalising assisted suicide would ‘set us on a slippery slope’.

Writing for online magazine Spiked, Dr Kevin Yuill from the University of Sunderland said: “Legalising any form of assisted suicide would be a foot in the door, which will be progressively prised open.”

Assisted suicide remains illegal in the UK.

A Bill to legalise the practice was soundly defeated in the House of Commons in 2015 by 330 votes to 118.

Related Resources