Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is heralding the decriminalization of assisted dying in Canada as a major step forward for human rights in this country.
Coming into force on Monday, the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada establishes physician-assisted dying as a rightful choice for competent adult Canadians who are suffering intolerably as the result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition. However, DWDC, the leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, says much more work needs to be done to ensure that desperately ill individuals have fair access to their right to medical assistance in dying.
“To the millions of Canadians who support our movement, today represents hope,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “The Supreme Court’s decision offers desperately ill individuals the promise of choice in the face of unendurable suffering. It opens the door to a Canada where people with catastrophic diagnoses will no longer be forced to experience years of pain and agony against their will."
However, the occasion is bittersweet, Gokool noted, because it is informed by the personal losses sustained by so many Canadians and because of the direction the federal government has taken with its new assisted dying legislation.
“Even as we celebrate, we remember those who couldn’t live to see this historic day — loved ones who died horribly or who suffered for years while longing for final relief,” she said. “We remember trailblazers like Sue Rodriguez, Kay Carter, Gloria Taylor, Dr. Donald Low and Nagui Morcos, whose activism in the face of incredible adversity made it possible for Canadians’ right to a peaceful death to be recognized. Today would not have been possible without their vision and courage.”
Bill C-14, the Liberal government’s assisted dying bill, threatens to rob tens of thousands of desperately ill Canadians of their rightful choice to assistance in dying, Gokool added. The proposed law, which passed the House last week and is now being studied in the Senate, does not comply with the Supreme Court’s Carter decision nor with the Charter. By limiting eligibility for assisted dying to individuals at end of life, Bill C-14 will deny Canadians who are suffering intolerably from severe chronic illnesses such as ALS and Multiple Sclerosis — but whose deaths are not imminent — their right to die in peace with the help of a physician. In addition, the proposed ban on advance requests for assisted dying will effectively exclude individuals diagnosed with capacity-eroding conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.
“We urge members of the Senate to take the necessary time to correct the many injustices embedded in Bill C-14,” said Gokool. “As it stands, Bill C-14 must be amended or abandoned, since it is clearly in conflict with the Supreme Court’s Carter ruling and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
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. And provincial medical regulators have already implemented the safeguards necessary to ensure vulnerable Canadians are shielded from abuse.
While DWDC continues its work to defend Canadians’ right to assistance in dying, the organization is also developing a peer-support network of physicians who wish to help patients achieve a peaceful end to their lives. Doctors looking to learn more about this resource should send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.