Critics say that the government’s proposed euthanasia changes go too far

By Brian Dryden,  Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – The federal government has reintroduced a bill that will make it easier for more Canadians to legally kill themselves with the help of a doctor, a move the government says it must do to fall in line with a 2019 Quebec court ruling.

The federal government claims it has the backing of most Canadians to expand who qualifies for a legally-sanctioned suicide, but long-standing opponents of euthanasia in Canada say what the government proposes goes far beyond what that Quebec court decision actually said.

A statement released by the federal government on Oct. 5 says the changes to Canada’s medical assistance in dying system (MAiD) it has put forward – which eliminates the requirement that a person’s death must be “reasonably forseeable” before they qualify for MAiD – is in keeping with the “emerging societal consensus” of Canadians on the issue.

“The bill reflects emerging societal consensus and was informed by views and concerns raised by Canadians, experts, practitioners, stakeholders, Indigenous groups, as well as provinces and territories during the public consultations undertaken in January and February 2020,” according to the government statement. “It is also informed by the past four years of experience with MAID in Canada.”

The bill reintroduced on Oct. 5 removes the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medically-provided euthanasia, introduces a two-track approach to procedural safeguards based on whether a person’s natural death is reasonably foreseeable, excludes eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness, allows a waiver of final consent for eligible persons whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable and who may lose capacity to consent before MAID can be provided, and expands data collection about euthanasia in Canada.

The government points to an online consultation process that it quickly put together after the Quebec court decision as proof that Canadians are in favour of the euthanasia system and making it easier to access.

Public opinion polls have shown Canadians support medically-provided euthanasia/ assisted suicide, including an Angus Reid Institute survey in early 2020 that indicated “four-in-five (80%) of Canadians now say it should be easier to make their own end-of-life decisions, compared to nearly three-quarters (73%) in 2016.”

The proposed changes come after the September 2019 Truchon decision when Quebec’s Superior Court found the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” requirement to be unconstitutional because it was too restrictive.

However, instead of just dropping that requirement as the court decision demanded, the proposed changes to the system would now also allow “a waiver of final consent for eligible persons whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable and who may lose capacity to consent before MAID can be provided.”

For the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, allowing for the waiver of final consent means that some Canadians will be put to death even if they change their minds, but are unable to communicate that decision.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg also says that other safeguards that were were originally built into the system are being stripped away. “They are making changes that are not in that court decision,” said Schadenberg.

In a message to Euthanasia Prevention Coalition members, Schadenberg said, “I challenge each of you to ask for a meeting with your Member of Parliament.”

“We must stand strong against the expansion of euthanasia,” he said.

The Catholic Church has continually spoken out against euthanasia and any expansion of Canada’s medically-provided death system. The Church rejects the idea that polls showing Canadians support euthanasia/assisted suicide in general should have any bearing because euthanasia is a straightforward issue of right and wrong.

“We unequivocally affirm and maintain the fundamental belief in the sacredness of all human life, a value that we share with many others in our country, including persons of different faiths and no faith at all,” Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) president Archbishop Richard Gagnon said in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the federal government proposed the changes to the rules around euthanasia.

“Despite the misleading euphemism, ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ (MAiD) remains simply euthanasia and assisted suicide – that is, the direct taking of human life or the participation in his/her suicide, which can never be justified,” said Gagnon, who is the archbishop of Winnipeg.

Gagnon said the Catholic Church calls “upon all Canadians to make their voices heard” and urges members of Parliament to acknowledge the giftedness of life as an inalienable right not to be taken away by others, the importance of compassion for the ill and the dying, as well as our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

The federal government has until Dec. 18 to bring Canada’s laws in compliance with the Quebec court decision, a deadline that has already been pushed back twice because of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on government operations since the spring.