By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA – A public consultation process is underway that could help shape the rules of for who qualifies for a government-sanctioned suicide in Canada as the federal government moves to fall in line with a Quebec court decision that quashed a key restriction to legally available medically-assisted death in this country.
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The latest public consultations, which are primarily being conducted through an online public survey, were launched on Monday, Jan. 13 by the federal government, and Canadians can give their views on what the rules should be surrounding state-sanctioned suicide by the end of the day Jan. 27, 2020. The survey can be accessed at this Justice Ministry web page.
The rush to make changes to Canada’s assisted-death laws is a direct response to a Quebec court decision in September 2019 that ruled that the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” criteria in the federal law and the “end-of-life” criteria in Quebec’s provincial law on medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia as being unconstitutional because those rules are too restrictive.
“The Court’s ruling will come into effect on March 11, 2020, unless an extension is granted by the Court. While this ruling only applies in the province of Quebec, the Government of Canada has accepted the ruling and has committed to changing the MAID law for the whole country,” according to a statement by the federal justice ministry.
When the federal government first brought in regulations surrounding assisted-dying in 2016, which in itself came after previous court decisions, the government promised there would be a larger review of the system after five years, primarily focusing on three complex issues: requests for medically assisted suicide/euthanasia by mature minors, for reasons of mental illness only, and for advance requests.
“As we prepare to launch the full review of the MAID law this summer, the Government of Canada is moving quickly in the shorter term to help inform our response to the recent Quebec court ruling. Updating Canada’s MAID law will expand eligibility for MAID beyond people who are nearing the end of life, and could possibly result in other changes once the review is complete,” a statement on the Justice ministry’s website said.
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti – who voted against his own government’s original MAID regulations when they were first adopted because he felt those regulations were too restrictive at the time – said in a statement that he understands that the issues surrounding assisted-death are “complex.”
“Medical assistance in dying is a profoundly complex and personal issue for many Canadians,” Lametti said in a statement on Jan 13, 2020 when the new public consultations were unveiled.
“The consultations we are launching today will allow us to hear directly from Canadians and guide the path forward,” Lametti said.
While the federal government is seeking input on how to bring the Canadian system of legally-sanctioned suicide / euthanasia into line with court decisions, opponents of allowing legally-sanctioned medically-assisted death say that any move to further expand who would be eligible is the slippery slope that they warned about when the practice was first legalized in Canada.
“What are we going to allow?” asked Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, adding that his organization is worried that minors and people with mental disabilities will eventually be made eligible to ask for an assisted death, as has happened in other jurisdictions in the world where legally-sanctioned suicide / euthanasia has been allowed.
While Canada struggles to come up with an assisted suicide/ euthanasia system that meets court mandated requirements, opponents continue to argue that much more support is needed for palliative care and hospice options in Canada that would help people who are nearing death without having to resort to suicide as a way to speed up their natural death.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s Schadenberg points out that Canadian hospices are concerned that the issue of end of life care for Canadians that hospices provide is being tangled up in the assisted suicide/ euthanasia debate.
Schadenberg recently reported on the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s website how in November 2019 the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Association of Palliative Care Physicians (CAPCP) issued a joint statement “stating categorically that ‘national and international hospice palliative care organizations are unified in the position’ that MAID is not part of the practice of hospice palliative care. Medical aid in dying, they argued, is not an ‘extension of palliative care’ but a violation of hospice and palliative medical goals of care.”