by Hilary White

TORONTO, March 7, 2006 ( – Senator Sharon Carstairs, a Chretien appointee, spoke at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto on Friday on the situation of palliative care in Canada.

Senator Carstairs, once considered one of Canada’s most enthusiastic supporters of euthanasia and assisted suicide, seems to be softening her views. Speaking at the invitation of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, Carstairs said that Canada is “not ready” for a debate on assisted suicide or euthanasia until there is a comprehensive and quality end of life care available to all Canadians.

Regarding the push to establish an assisted suicide law in Canada, she responded, “I say we should change the tenor of the debate.”

“Unless every single Canadian can be guaranteed quality end of life care in which they have a legitimate choice to make, then I would suggest that we cannot start that other debate. We aren’t there yet. We are a long way from being there yet,” Carstairs continued.

In her reports on palliative care in Canada, Carstairs maintains that universal standards of care at the end of life must be established before assisted suicide can even be discussed. These standards, however, are the subject of much debate and in professional bioethics circles, even in Catholic institutions, support for euthanasia by dehydration and starvation is strong.

“If a person says to me, ‘I want to commit suicide,’ I would ask him what his needs are.” She said, people fear unbearable pain and loss of personal dignity and that the real challenge is to change public attitudes towards illness and dying. “Why have they lost their dignity? Is it because we have made them feel undignified?”

When asked directly if there were plans for Canada to follow the so-called Dutch model of legalized assisted suicide, which in the Netherlands is applied even to infants, Carstairs again said that Canada is not in a position yet to address the issue adequately. “There may come a time when we will have a debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide, but I would suggest to you that it is not now.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition attended the talk and told, that Carstairs’ position is generally against assisted suicide, which is important considering that she knows Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde will bring back another assisted suicide bill.

“If even Sharon Carstairs is saying that we are not ready for assisted suicide legislation, then we should take seriously the problem that we are not providing adequate palliative care in Canada now,” Schadenberg said.