After weeks of pushing for patient-centred amendments to the Liberal’s assisted dying legislation, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is asking its supporters to tell their MPs to vote against Bill C-14 in the House of Commons this week.
The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, DWDC says it cannot support Bill C-14 because it does not comply with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada and will violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
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“The proposed bill will disqualify many of the suffering Canadians that the Supreme Court of Canada had intended to help with its unanimous Carter decision,” DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool said on Monday. “As a result, we’re making a call to action that would have been inconceivable to us even two months ago. Under the direction of our Board, we’re asking MPs to say ‘Yes’ to Carter and ‘No’ to Bill C-14.”
Set to come into effect on June 6, the Supreme Court’s decision establishes physician-assisted 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, by limiting access to assisted dying to patients whose “natural death is reasonably foreseeable,” Bill C-14 risks excluding Canadians with excruciating chronic medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and ALS from a peaceful end to their suffering. The bill also lacks any firm commitment to the future legalization of advance requests for assisted dying — raising concerns that people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease and other conditions that rob victims of competence will be barred outright from legal access to assistance in dying.
“Pushing through legislation that discriminates against Canadians on the basis of their diagnoses is never acceptable,” said Gokool. “We expected more from a government that swept to power promising to uphold Canadians’ Charter rights.”
DWDC’s position, Gokool stressed, is informed by the fact there will be no legal void if new assisted dying legislation isn’t passed by June 6. 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 necessary safeguards to ensure vulnerable Canadians are shielded from abuse.
Regardless of the outcome of the House vote on Bill C-14, DWDC will continue to advocate for federal and provincial legislation that honours the high court’s Carter ruling, Gokool noted. And if Bill C-14 makes it to the Senate, DWDC will call on members of the Red Chamber to push for amendments that would bring the proposed law in line with the Carter v. Canada decision.
“Senators have an historic opportunity to help make right what Bill C-14 gets so egregiously wrong,” she said. “We implore them to seize the occasion.”