Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is calling on the Senate to take time to make necessary amendments to Bill C-14 after the House of Commons voted to pass the proposed assisted dying legislation on Tuesday evening.
The bill passed by a vote of 186-137, with all but four government MPs in attendance voting in favour.
DWDC, the leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, is now turning its attention to the Senate to push for amendments that place patients at the centre of the new legislation. In its current form, Bill C-14 does not comply with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada and will violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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“The bill that was passed today provides no comfort to many Canadians who were promised choice in the face of incredible suffering but whose rights are now at risk,” DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool said. “Now, it’s up to representatives in the Senate to show the courage required to correct this injustice.”
The Supreme Court’s Carter v. Canada decision to decriminalize physician-assisted dying will come into effect on June 6. The ruling establishes assistance in dying as a right for competent adult Canadians who are suffering intolerably from a “grievous and irremediable condition” and who clearly consent to the termination of life.
However, Bill C-14 falls tremendously short of the minimum standard put forth by Canada’s top court. By limiting access to assisted dying to patients whose “natural death is reasonably foreseeable,” the legislation risks excluding Canadians who are suffering as a result of excruciating chronic medical conditions, such as Multiple Sclerosis and ALS, but whose deaths are not imminent. The bill also lacks any firm commitment to the future legalization of advance requests for assisted dying — raising concerns about whether people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease and other capacity-eroding conditions will be barred outright from legal access to assistance in dying.
“Pushing through a bill that discriminates against patients on the basis of their diagnoses is unacceptable, especially from a government that swept to power promising to respect Canadians’ Charter rights,” said Gokool.
There will be no legal void if new assisted dying legislation isn’t passed by June 6, she stressed. Rather, eligibility will be assessed using the strict criteria laid out in the Supreme Court’s decision. In addition, provincial medical regulators have already implemented the safeguards necessary to ensure vulnerable Canadians are shielded from abuse.
Gokool also raised the recent Alberta appeal court decision to reject the government’s attempts to block a 58-year-old woman’s application for assisted dying because she was not terminally ill. In its ruling, the court said the “government’s argument is not supported by the words of the [Carter] decision as a whole, nor by the principles articulated in the decision.”
“The Alberta appeal court ruling indicates that Bill C-14 will be constitutionally dead on arrival unless it’s substantially amended — a warning the Liberal government has chosen to ignore,” Gokool said. “We encourage members of the Senate not to make the same mistake.”