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What are euthanasia and assisted suicide?

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Euthanasia and assisted suicide are now legal. Who is at risk?

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Advocacy and information groups.

 

Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide

 

1980s

1983

In the USA, Baby Jane Doe, a newborn baby with Down's Syndrome, is starved at the request of her parents and with court approval in spite of many parents wanting to adopt her.

1990s

1991

The Right to Die Society of Canada is founded to advocate the repeal of laws which forbid euthanasia and assisted suicide.

January 1992

Dr. Jack Kevorkian is charged with murder in the US. He's been killing people with his death machine for at least five years. He is acquitted repeatedly after further charges over the years.

1992

Sue Rodriguez of BC, suffering from ALS, enters into an agreement with John Hofsess (president of the Right to Die Society) whereby he agrees to assist Sue in terminating her life. She petitions the BC court for the legal right to have assistance in ending her life, asking the court to find section 241 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional because it contravenes her "right" to control what happens to her body. Her petition is denied. An appeal is made to BC Supreme Court.

February 1993

Ian Waddell (NDP) MP introduces a bill which urges the government to decriminalize assisting suicide.

September 30, 1993

The Supreme Court of Canada, in a five to four decision, dismisses Sue Rodriguez's appeal for physician-assisted suicide. In the wake of this divided decision, the government sets up the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide to advise the government on the need (or not) to change Canada's legislation. Ms. Rodriguez dies of assisted suicide the next year; the identity of the doctor is not divulged.

October 24, 1993

Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, admits to the police that he took the life of his 12-year-old daughter Tracy by carbon monoxide poisoning. Tracy had severe cerebral palsy and a dislocated hip which caused her pain. He is arrested and charged with murder.

November 16, 1994

Robert Latimer is found guilty of second-degree murder even though the premeditation involved in his killing Tracy should have merited a first degree conviction. He is sentenced to the mandatory minimum ten years in jail.

March 1996

A US Federal Appeals Court in Washington State rules that U.S. citizens have a constitutionally protected right to "determine the time and manner of one's own death." Kevorkian, on trial again in Michigan, is acquitted because of this ruling.

January 1997

A woman with a rare form of skin cancer becomes the second person to die under Australia's assisted suicide law. Dr. Philip Nitschke hooked her up to an intravenous line and had her use his "death by laptop" computer program. When she clicked a "yes" button on the laptop, the lethal dose was administered.

March 1997

The Australian Senate overturns the country's assisted suicide law after the House of Representatives had done so by a wide margin.

July 26, 1997

The U.S. Supreme Court has left decisions concerning the right to physician-assisted suicide up to the country's fifty states. The court stated that terminally ill Americans do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, but it did not bar states from acting on their own to legalize the process.

November 1998

Two clinical ethicists from St. Boniface General Hospital say some Manitoba doctors have been issuing Do Not Resuscitate orders without telling the patients or their families. The issue surfaced when the wife of Andrew Sawatzky took a Winnipeg geriatric hospital to court after a doctor issued a DNR order against the wishes of Mrs. Sawatzky. Mr. Sawatzky suffers from Parkinson's disease.

1998-1999

Jack Kevorkian is charged with first-degree murder, criminal assistance to suicide and delivery of a controlled substance for the videotaped mercy-killing of Thomas Youk. He is convicted of second-degree murder. He is sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.

 

1999

Canadian right-to-die advocates unveil a "Debreather": a homemade gas mask and canister that recirculates the wearer's breath until he or she dies from oxygen deprivation.

2000s

March 20, 2000

A retired Austrian doctor accused of the Nazi-ordered deaths of handicapped children during the Second World War goes on trial. Heinrich Gross faces charges of complicity in murder in a child euthanasia program ordered by the Nazis at the Vienna clinic where he was in charge. He is charged with the deaths of nine handicapped children in the summer of 1944.

April 11, 2000

Jack Kevorkian is awarded the Gleitsman Foundation Citizen Activist Award for Humanitarianism. The award is accepted by the widow of Thomas Youk whose assisted suicide in 1998 led to Kevorkian's prison sentence. The award comes with a $100,000 prize.

November 28, 2000

The Dutch parliament approves a bill to allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide making it the first country to formally legalize the practice. The bill passed by a vote of 104-40.

December 6, 2000

Dr. L.J. Dragovic, chief forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner for Michigan's Oakland county reports that only 17 of the 69 people who committed suicide with the help of Jack Kevorkian were terminally ill. Dragovic's findings were published in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

August 21, 2002

Alaskan William Stivers, 82, uses a suicide bag ordered from Canada in order to kill himself, according to a report in the Anchorage Daily News. Stivers bought a small tank of inert, deadly gas and stored it in his basement. He sent away to an address in Canada for a modified plastic bag to trap the gas around his head. The Exit Bag, produced by the Right to Die Society of Canada, is a suicide bag made of heavy-duty plastic. It is distributed with an instruction booklet titled "The Art & Science of Suicide".

January 28, 2003

The Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ontario Government's Ministry of Culture, has provided the pro-euthanasia group 'Dying with Dignity' $177,800 over three years to create a pilot counselling program in Toronto. However, counselling to commit suicide is illegal in Canada.

February 28, 2003

Doctors in Holland, where euthanasia is permitted, are illegally euthanizing patients since they feel the required reporting procedure is bothersome, according to an investigative television program. The program noted that thousands of cases of life-shortening acts are not being reported to the regional committees which judge whether euthanasia in a particular case is allowable under Dutch law.

March 2005

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed after a prolonged legal battle. Her husband requested the removal of the feeding tube, claiming that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state. She died thirteen days later of severe dehydration. Terri, who had suffered a brain injury, was able to breathe independently, see, and move her limbs, but did not have the ability to swallow on her own.

 

2008

Luxembourg legalizes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

November 4, 2008

Washington State passes a "Death with Dignity" act, allowing terminally ill adults to request lethal doses of medication from physicians. The law only applies to residents of the state who have less than six months to live. The law passed with 58% of the votes.

2010s

2020s

February 2014

Belgium becomes the first country to remove age limits on euthanasia, allowing children to be killed.

 

February 6, 2015

The Supreme Court of Canada strikes down the ban on physician-assisted suicide for mentally competent patients who are suffering a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’.

September 2016

A 17-year old becomes the first minor to be legally euthanized in Belgium.

February 2020

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany overturns a ban on medically assisted suicide, giving the ability to seek a medically assisted death without leaving the country to patients who are terminally and gravely ill.

March 17, 2021

Canada expands euthanasia and assisted suicide from patients with a reasonably foreseeable death to anyone over 18 years of age with an incurable illness, disease or disability, regardless of whether or not their death is reasonably foreseeable. This change in legislation was a result of a response to the Superior Court of Quebec’s Truchon Decision.