OTTAWA, April 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Canada will not see an assisted suicide law before the fall federal election, Justice Minister Peter MacKay has revealed, because there will be a six-month consultation first, by a commission now being set up.
The pro-euthanasia Dying with Dignity organization expressed alarm over the revelations, because it would cause anxiety to those who might want assisted suicide now.
But anti-euthanasia leaders such as Amy Hasbrouk of Not Dead Yet say they would rather have a thorough study of the issues than a “half-baked law” that leaves disabled, mentally ill, and elderly people unprotected, and the underlying pressures that lead people to suicide unaddressed.
The push for new legislation comes from the Supreme Court’s three-month-old decision in the Carter v. Canada case, throwing out the Criminal Code prohibition on physician-assisted suicide for consenting adults with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” causing “intolerable” suffering. The court gave Parliament and provincial legislators until February 2016 to pass new laws protecting vulnerable groups such as the disabled and elderly before its ruling comes into effect.
However, opposition parties and pro-euthanasia activists have called for quick action in this session, but failed in a bid to give the job of drafting the replacement law to a House of Commons committee, while disabled, but pro-assisted suicide, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher introduced his own bill that went nowhere.
Now MacKay, in separate interviews with Canadian Press and Le Devoir, has indicated that, rather than give the job to a Commons committee, the government will create a three-or-four-member commission that will take from June to December to consult with the public—and concerned advocacy groups—before reporting to government bill drafters.
Said MacKay: “We're not going to be too hasty in drafting a bill without having the opportunity to really hear from a wide variety of stakeholders. This is a bill that a lot of other countries are watching as well.”
Not good enough, said Dying with Dignity Canada CEO Wanda Morris. “Unless there is clarity about the future of end-of-life choice in Canada, Canadians will continue to suffer without the peace of mind of knowing that, if worst comes to worst, there is an alternative to a terrible death,” she told the Canadian Press. “Eighty-four per cent of Canadians support physician assisted dying. It is time for governments to stop viewing this as a controversial issue and to start putting in place the necessary regulatory framework so that no one suffers needlessly at end of life.”
But Hasbrouk of Not Dead Yet, a disabled persons’ rights group, told LifeSiteNews that not only do the disabled need protection from those who devalue their lives, but depressed people need safeguards against their own suicidal thoughts.
“Disabled people are not inclined to depression any more than any other group,” she said. “But when they do get depressed in countries that allow assisted suicide, they get the fatal drugs without question. Anyone else gets a psychiatric examination. That’s discrimination.”
Hasbrouk noted that the whole idea of medical consent needs to be re-examined. For ordinary medical procedures it is a matter of whether a person is rational enough to weigh risks and benefits. “Depression doesn’t affect that. But when the procedure is assisted suicide, whether a person is depressed would have a huge bearing on the decision to request suicide.”
But Hasbrouk said there was an even more important reason to take six months to consult the public. “More time is needed to address the real causes behind pressure for assisted suicide,” with inadequate palliative care leading the list. “Only 20% of Canadians have access to palliative care expertise,” she said, meaning people who are dying will suffer needlessly—a big reason people want assisted suicide.
Others fear loss of dignity and autonomy, or don’t want to burden their families. Hasbrouk’s group calls for more spending on home care to address all these. Paying professional caregivers to support the seriously or terminally ill at home is cheaper than institutional care and a lot easier financially and emotionally on the family, she said. As well, “caring for people in their own homes is cheaper than in an institution,” she said.
Nicolas Steenhout, director of Montreal-based Vivre dans la Dignité, said he was concerned that the federal timetable might not allow enough time for a new law to be put in place by February. “We don’t want a vacuum that leaves people unprotected.” At the same time, he noted that no existing safeguards in countries that allow assisted suicide, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, do protect everyone. Once a law allowing it for consenting adults is in place, assisted suicide is easy to extend to children or the mentally incompetent.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, based in London, Ontario, told LifeSiteNews, “Amy Hasbrouk is right: better a good law that’s late than a half-baked law.” Schadenberg, like Steenhout and Hasbrouk, has called on the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution, that would prevent the Supreme Court ruling from being implemented for a year. This would allow enough time to draft an adequate law without a lawless interlude.
Schadenberg also endorsed MacKay’s six-month hearings on the grounds this would allow the news media to cover both sides of the issue. “The media in general haven’t given us a chance to air our concerns.” The CP story revealing MacKay’s intentions, for example, cited two supporters but no opponents of euthanasia.