Conservative MP demands conscience rights be protected in criminal law surrounding assisted suicide

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By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – A federal Conservative MP has put forward a new private members bill in the House of Commons that would protect health care workers from having to help kill someone if they don’t want to participate in Canada’s medically-assisted euthanasia system.

Conservative MP Kelly Block’s proposed Bill C-268, which had its first reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 18, comes as the federal government moves closer to getting its changes to Canada’s euthanasia / assisted suicide system that would make it easier for Canadians to kill themselves with the help of a doctor finalized in the House of Commons and Senate by the end of March.

“Freedom of conscience is one of the first fundamental rights laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it is at the core of our Canadian identity,” Block said. “This private members bill is a response to calls from physicians and patients to ensure conscience rights for medical professionals.”

A statement released by the Saskatchewan MP’s office said the proposed bill would “extend protections for medical professionals who have chosen to not take part, directly or indirectly, in medical assistance in dying or euthanasia.”

“It would make it a punishable offense to use violence, threats, coercion, or intimidation in order to force a medical professional to take part in or refer a patient for medical assistance in dying or assisted suicide. It also prohibits the firing or refusal to hire medical professionals if the sole reason is their refusal to take part in medical assistance in dying,” the statement explained of the goal of the bill

Conscience rights have been a key issue for many religious and and civil groups who are against legally-sanctioned suicide and any effort to expand who qualifies for medically-provided euthanasia / assisted suicide in Canada.

“Medical associations, medical professional groups, and other concerned organizations across Canada have called for conscience protection for medical professions including the Ontario Medical Association and First Nation leaders in recent letters to the federal Minister of Justice,” a news release from Block’s office said.

Block, the Conservative MP for Saskatchewan’s Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek riding, added that “this Bill protects the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring doctors and other medical professionals are always able to recommend and provide the care they believe is best for their patient.”

“I have introduced this legislation to ensure in plain language those rights guaranteed to all Canadians in the Charter,” Block said in the House on Feb. 18.

“This bill seeks to enshrine in law a minimum national standard of protections for the freedom of conscience of medical professionals, while respecting the jurisdiction of my provincial colleagues to expand on this bill. It would ensure that medical professionals who choose to not take part in, or refer a patient for, euthanasia or medical assistance in dying would never be forced by violence, threats, coercion or loss of employment to violate the sovereign rights we all enjoy by virtue of our citizenship in this nation,” Block added.

“I encourage all my colleagues in this place to ratify my bill, thereby stating unequivocally that the right to free conscience expressed in the Charter applies equally to all Canadians, regardless of their chosen profession,” she said.

Call to oppose Bill C-7 and the expansion of euthanasia: resource page LINK

Related article from The B.C. Catholic: “Patients offered euthanasia contrary to health policy”

Related: “Indigenous leaders fear expanded euthanasia decision”

Block’s private members bill was put forward just days before the federal government was granted yet another extension by a Quebec court to make changes to the medically-assisted death (MAiD) system so that the rules surrounding euthanasia are compatible with a 2019 court decision that said the existing rule that a person’s death already be foreseeable is too restrictive.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Martin Sheehan agreed to give the government a fourth and final extension until March 26. Sheehan said “it is appropriate to grant a final extension.”

The federal government sought the extension to pass its assisted-dying bill as it deals with stiff opposition from the Opposition Conservatives over amendments to Bill C-7 brought forth by the Senate.

One such amendment would open the door to mentally-ill Canadians being able to seek a legally-sanctioned suicide within 18 months. The government has agreed to allow this, but not before two years from now.

“It has been a year since the Liberal Justice Minister tabled Bill C-7, the government’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) legislation. Now, at the last minute, the Liberals are accepting an amendment that would start a reckless countdown to expand MAiD to those with mental illness,” said Conservative Justice Critic Rob Moore.

“Instead of recklessly expanding MAiD to those with mental illness with parliamentary review, the Liberals should focus on providing additional mental support,” he said.

The government rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed advance requests for an assisted death from people who feared being diagnosed with dementia or other competence-eroding conditions.

The fact the Senate wants the medically-assisted euthanasia system to be available to the mentally-ill has stunned some opponents, who had hoped the Senate would block any changes to Bill C-7.

Canada’s Catholic Bishops have joined with other organizations in taking a stand against legally-sanctioned suicide in Canada in all its forms and has also spoken out in favour of conscience rights for health care providers to not participate in the medically-assisted euthanasia / assisted suicide system if that goes against their personal or religious beliefs.

A statement from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) said it is “very troubled by Bill C-7 and the impact it will have on people who may be vulnerable due to medical, economic or social circumstances.”

“While we remain firmly opposed to hastened death, we advocate for the strongest possible protection and safeguards to minimize the harm and risk to vulnerable Canadians,” the EFC said, adding “with the sweeping changes being proposed to the MAiD regime, it becomes even more critical to establish strong, clear conscience protection in the Criminal Code.”

“No one should be compelled to participate in practices to bring about the death of another person, against their deeply held beliefs,” an EFC letter to the federal government stated. “This essential protection is missing from Bill C-7.”

– With files from the Canadian Catholic News