Opposition to euthanasia continues in Canada, with concern about expanding eligibility and “bullying” of those who refuse to participate

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA – Opponents of medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia  in Canada are continuing to urge like-minded Canadians to speak out against legalized medically-provided death, while the House of Commons grapples with proposed changes to who qualifies for euthanasia.

While rolling back legally-sanctioned suicide and euthanasia in Canada no longer seems possible, critics of  the so-called “MAiD system” are hoping to at least block the further expansion of who can access medically-assisted death by focusing on two key issues –  better and more accessible palliative care  and protection of conscience rights for health workers who refuse to participate.

The federal government’s proposed Bill C-7 – introduced in the House of Commons in February – proposes changes in the wake of a Quebec court decision in 2019 that struck down a requirement that a person’s death must be reasonably foreseeable in order to qualify for medically-assisted suicide or euthanasia.

The new federal bill would also would allow a waiver of final consent for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable but “who may who may lose capacity to consent before MAID can be provided.” The bill specifically states that it excludes “eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness.” However, the government also concedes that future changes to the assisted death system in Canada could include the mentally-ill following a mandated five-year review 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,” said a statement from the Ministry of Justice.

The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) said in a recent statement to Canadians that “it is imperative that you reach out to your MP to tell them that you oppose the removal of safeguards and the expansion of eligibility.”

“Although we now know the content of the new proposed law, the content of the final law is still very much in question,” the ARPS statement said.

“There is division within each party around how the issues this bill raises should be resolved,” according to ARPA. “In short, this legislation on assisted suicide could change significantly in the next few months. Proposed amendments by other parties or the Senate could further remove safeguards and expand eligibility, or proposed amendments could strengthen safeguards and restrict eligibility.”

Ray Penning, executive director of the faith-based organization Cardus, points to the lack of guidelines and safeguards to protect people from feeling pressured into going through with a medically-assisted death and the lack of real conscience rights protections for health workers.

“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,” Pennings said.

The issue of pressure, on both patients and health care workers, has become a rallying cry for critics of the legalized system of medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The recent removal of provincial government funding for a Delta Hospice Society in B.C.  because it refuses to allow euthanasia and a recent statement from a group that represents doctors against euthanasia that refers to the bullying of health workers pressuring them to participate in assisted suicide and euthanasia continue to draw attention.

The Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia released a statement March 9, 2020 that said some physicians are afraid to speak out publicly about what they consider to be pressure on health care workers.

“The Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia has received reports that unwilling physicians are being pressured and bullied to participate in Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD),” the organization said in a press release.

“The pressure has been intense for many physicians, especially amongst palliative specialists, some leaving their profession even before this latest development. Descriptions were made of toxic practice environments and fear of discipline by medical regulators.”

The alliance quotes an unnamed former palliative care worker who said: “The anxiety, fear, and sadness surrounding my work bled into my family life, and I ultimately felt that I could not manage practicing palliative care at this stage of my life.”

“The reports we are hearing from distressed physicians describe deliberate disruption of arrangements that were previously working satisfactorily and that had permitted patients to have access to MAiD while still allowing for conscience objectors to not be involved in facilitating the patient’s death,” the alliance’s press release said.

“This bullying and betrayal of collegial relationships can poison practice environments and compromise patient care. Such behavior should not be tolerated by health care administrators in Canada.”

The alliance is calling on “Canadian physicians having similar stories of bullying” to share their experiences by emailing the alliance  at info@collectifmedecins.org.