Prohibition on euthanasia for the mentally ill retained in proposed changes to legislation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week announced further measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus.

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] –  The federal government’s proposed changes to what they call “medical assistance in dying”  or “MAiD” is eliminating the requirement that a person’s death must be reasonably foreseeable for medically-assisted suicide or euthanasia in Canada. However, the prohibition on assisted suicide or euthanasia for those who are suffering from mental illness remains.

“Medical assistance in dying is a deeply personal issue that touches real people and real families. Canadians have shown us during the consultations just how important this issue is to them,” Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said Feb. 24 as the federal government introduced proposed changes to Canada’s medical suicide rules.

“The proposed amendments aim to reduce suffering, while also supporting individual autonomy and freedom of choice,” Lametti said of the new Bill C-7 that the government introduced to make amendments to the assisted suicide/euthanasia rules so that they fall in line with a September 2019 Quebec court decision that ruled that the “reasonably foreseeable” requirement was too restrictive.

One of the most prominent opponents of legal euthanasia in Canada is calling on the federal government to not make any changes to the assisted death system at this time and instead wait until a mandated five-year review of the system that is supposed to start in June. “The government should wait before amending the law. In June 2020, the government will begin its consultation on five years of euthanasia in Canada,” Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said.

He said that the elimination of the “reasonability foreseeable” requirement does open the door to including people who may want an assisted death for solely psychological reasons in the future.

“A person didn’t qualify for euthanasia based on psychological reasons alone since the law required that a person’s ‘natural death be reasonably foreseeable’ but since the Quebec court struck down this requirement, the law now permits euthanasia for psychological reasons,” Schadenberg said, adding that “Bill C-7 pretends to prevent euthanasia for psychological suffering.”

What the government’s proposed bill does do is set up a two-tier system for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable and those whose death is not. It also would allow a waiver of final consent for those who’s death is reasonably foreseeable but “who may who may lose capacity to consent before MAID can be provided”, but it specifically states that it excludes “eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness.”

At the same time, the government does concede that future changes to the system could include the mentally-ill, following the five year review of the system that will start this summer. “Other important questions relating to MAiD in Canada — such as advance requests for persons newly diagnosed with a condition that could affect their decision-making capacity in the future, eligibility for persons suffering solely from mental illness and eligibility for mature minors —could be considered during a broader parliamentary review of MAiD legislation expected to begin by June 2020,” a statement from the Ministry of Justice said.

The issue of giving assisted suicide or euthanasia to those suffering from mental illness has also been considered in Quebec where the provincial government is changing its assisted dying rules to line up with what is known as the Truchon decision by allowing individuals who are not nearing the end of their lives to be eligible to receive euthanasia.

While the Quebec government will make its changes by March 11 as the Quebec court ruling mandated, it has backed away from allowing people suffering from dementia and other mental health issues to access assisted suicide or euthanasia until there is further discussion in that province around the issue.

The federal government has asked for a four-month extension of that March deadline to make the federal changes.

The faith-based think tank Cardus is also very critical of what the federal government is proposing in Bill C-7, calling it a one-sided expansion of eligibility for assisted suicide and euthanasia, and slams the proposal for not doing anything to protect the conscience rights of health workers.

“Bill C-7 is unbalanced with its heavy emphasis on expanded access to medical aid in dying without an equal measure of concern for improved guidelines and safeguards. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of People with Disabilities called on Canada last April to investigate cases of coerced MAiD and to improve protection for vulnerable people who do not want a doctor to end their lives. Yet we’ve seen no action in response to this call,” said Cardus executive vice-president Ray Pennings.

“The bill also doesn’t take protection of conscience rights seriously. Conscience rights are Charter rights. The federal government has a responsibility to protect all Canadians’ Charter rights – including the rights of medical professionals not to participate in MAiD in any way and the rights of hospices and other institutions not to cause the deaths of people in their care,” he said.