Dying With Dignity Canada disappointed with Ottawa’s approach to studying the future of Canada's assisted dying law

The announcement of independent studies into Bill C-14 suggests the federal government has no intention of bringing Canada’s assisted dying rules in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Dying With Dignity Canada says.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced that it has tapped the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to study the possible expansion of Bill C-14’s eligibility criteria to include three groups who don’t qualify for access under the federal assisted dying law: mature minors; individuals whose primary medical condition is a mental illness; and desperately ill individuals who will continue to be excluded unless the law is changed to allow for advance requests for assisted dying. An amendment to Bill C-14 gave the government until Dec. 17 to launch the reviews, and reports on the studies’ findings must be tabled in Parliament before the end of 2018.

The leading organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted, unnecessary suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is alarmed that the CCA’s reports to Cabinet will only summarize the findings of their studies and not include specific policy recommendations. “Our supporters were looking to Ottawa to encourage a ‘can-do’ approach to respecting Canadians’ right to assisted dying,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, today’s announcement suggests the government may be content with an assisted dying framework that violates Canadians’ Charter rights and the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada.

DWDC has expressed repeated concerns about the constitutionality of Bill C-14 because it unfairly discriminates against entire groups of desperately ill Canadians on the basis of their diagnoses. While the Supreme Court’s ruling in Carter v. Canada established assisted dying as a right for all competent adult Canadians who are suffering from a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition, Bill C-14 limits access to only those individuals whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable.” In addition, the law doesn’t allow for individuals who have been diagnosed with a severe medical condition to make advance requests for assisted dying, written directives that could be carried out after the applicant loses mental capacity. A February 2016 poll commissioned by DWDC and conducted by Ipsos Reid revealed that eight in 10 Canadians approve of legalizing this option.

“Without the option to make an advance request for assisted dying while they still have capacity, Canadians with dementia, or other conditions that rob victims of their mental faculties, will continue to be denied their hard-won right to a peaceful death,” said Gokool.

In addition, Gokool said it’s not clear whether Canadians will be consulted during the course of the independent studies. “Right now, desperately ill individuals across this country are waiting to find out whether they will finally be able to access their right to assisted dying,” she said. “How we can honour their choice must not be treated as a purely academic question.”

Dying With Dignity Canada has already launched an online Pledge to Participate asking supporters to commit to sharing their views as part of the independent studies. As of Dec. 13, about 1,500 people had signed the action.

“Our supporters are primed and ready to push for a compassionate, patient-centred approach to choice in dying,” Gokool said. “We will ensure that their voices are heard loud and clear — whether the government wants to listen or not.”

(Photo credit: David Samuel/Wikimedia)

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