B.C. government refuses to 'shine the way' on assisted dying

The B.C. government under Premier Christy Clark has taken a pass on an important opportunity to prepare the province for the looming decriminalization of physician assisted dying.

On Tuesday, the province's Select Standing Committee on Health submitted its recommendations on assisted dying to the B.C. legislature in Victoria. Created last year, the all-party committee of MLAs sought feedback from B.C. residents on a number of health-related topics, including the future of end-of-life care in the province.

However, in an extraordinary move, the government voted Tuesday not to endorse the interim report, even though Liberal MLAs comprised a majority on the committee that produced the recommendations.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada is urging the B.C. government to adopt the committee’s recommendations ahead of Feb. 6, 2016, when the Supreme Court’s decision on physician assisted dying is set to come into effect.

“With only three months left until the ban on assisted dying is lifted, it’s high time for the B.C. government to show compassionate leadership on this critical human rights issue,” said DWD Canada CEO Wanda Morris. “The committee’s recommendations offer a solid roadmap for how to achieve a patient-centred framework for assisted dying. It would be shameful to let their painstaking work go to waste, especially now.”

The committee recommended that the province set up a reliable system of referrals to ensure that eligible patients can access physician assisted dying no matter where they live. Physician assisted dying should also be integrated as a choice along a "continuum of care" for patients facing excruciating, incurable suffering.

The report, Morris pointed out, reflects the contributions of B.C. residents who participated in the committee’s public consultation. “The wishes of ordinary British Columbians — for fair, safe and timely access to their right to die with dignity — must not be ignored,” said Morris, a resident of Metro Vancouver.

'A difficult and emotional issue'

On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously to strike down the country’s Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying. The justices on the high court gave the federal government and the provinces one year to prepare for the implementation of the decision.

"Because this is, without question, a difficult and emotional issue — for all of us," said B.C. MLA Judy Darcy, the committee's deputy chair. "But it also reflects the soon-to-be enacted law of the land."

"Within three months, patients and doctors may be faced with the most heart-rending decisions of their lives, with no government light to shine the way."

DWD Canada supporters will be speaking out on Wednesday at rallies across the country as part of our Nov. 4 National Day of Action and Solidarity for the Right to Die with Dignity. “We will be calling on our political leaders to work together to ensure that horrifically ill patients aren’t forced to suffer any longer,” said Morris.

A rally in Vancouver will take place outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby St.) starting at 12 p.m. PT. Scheduled speakers include Vancouver’s Elayne Shapray, whose decades-long battle with Multiple Sclerosis inspired her to file an affidavit asking the Supreme Court to strike down the prohibition on physician assisted dying.

Wednesday’s rallies will have special significance for residents of B.C., Morris noted. “Trailblazers like Sue Rodriguez, Gloria Taylor and Kay Carter fought for the right to die with dignity. Because of their sacrifices, we are at the cusp of a change that will give Canadians meaningful choice over how they die.

“Let’s honour the memory of these incredible British Columbians by making their vision a reality.”

(Photo credit: Kris Krug/Flickr)

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