Dying With Dignity Canada is raising serious concerns about the federal government’s newly announced legislation for physician-assisted dying.
Tabled on Thursday, the new legislation ignores keys recommendation’s put forward by the government-appointed Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying and risks depriving Canadians with dementia and other catastrophic chronic conditions of access to their hard-won right to die with the help of a doctor.
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“We are deeply disappointed because we would expect this of the former administration, not from a government that came into power vowing to respect Canadians’ Charter rights,” said Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, the leading organization working to help Canadians avoid unwanted and unnecessary suffering at the end of life. “These harsh, discriminatory rules fly in the face of that expectation and will create unfair barriers to access to medical aid in dying. We expected better.”
Gokool condemned the government for apparently proposing to limit access to physician-assisted dying to individuals at end of life, a restriction that may contradict the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada. “This rule could force thousands of Canadians with excruciating chronic illnesses to suffer against their will for years or even decades,” she said. “Our hearts go out to these individuals and their families.”
She also spoke out against denying Canadians with dementia or other catastrophic degenerative conditions the option to, while they are still competent, make advance requests for assisted dying, to be honoured once certain strict, pre-stated conditions are met. According to a recent poll commissioned by DWDC and conducted by Ipsos Reid, eight in 10 Canadians support this proposal, which was endorsed by Parliament’s Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.
“Without the option of advance consent, Canadians with devastating conditions who want to exercise their right to physician-assisted dying may face a bleak choice: end their lives too early, while they are still competent; or risk waiting until it’s too late,” Gokool said.
In addition, DWDC is concerned that the ban on advance requests for assisted dying will effectively exclude most individuals with dementia from their right to die with the help of a physician. For a patient to be eligible for access to assisted dying under the criteria laid out by the Supreme Court, they have to be suffering intolerably as the result of a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition.
In the days ahead, Dying With Dignity Canada will be mobilizing its supporters to push Parliament to ensure that its legislation is compliant with the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada and also with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Canadians grappling with horrible diagnoses need to know that their right to a peaceful death will be respected in new legislation,” she said. “We ask for Parliamentarians to hear their call.”
To learn more about the details of the legislation, read the CBC's report on the tabling of the Liberal government's assisted dying bill.