Assisted dying opponent won't chair study on advance requests

A university professor who once likened the arguments of assisted dying advocates to Nazi propaganda will no longer chair an influential study on advance requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

On April 27, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) announced that Dr. Harvey Schipper would lead a working group of academics who will report their findings to the federal government by the end of 2018. However, Dr. Schipper’s appointment raised eyebrows because of comments he made in a newspaper op-ed three years ago. In a June 2014 op-ed he wrote for The Globe and Mail, he compared the arguments put forward by assisted dying advocates to those the Nazi regime used to justify their eugenics program and the Holocaust.

After learning of the op-ed, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) called for Dr. Schipper to publicly clarify his statements — an action he has yet take.

However, on Wednesday, the CCA issued a written statement announcing that Dr. Schipper was stepping down from his role as chair and will now serve as a regular member of the working group on advance requests. “While I do believe I would have served in the role of chair impartially, the work of this Expert Panel is far too important to be burdened with unnecessary distractions,” he said in the CCA’s statement.

Former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, who is overseeing all of the CCA’s assisted dying studies, will lead the working group on advance consent until a permanent chair is named.

In a news report by Canadian Press journalist Joan Bryden, DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool called Dr. Schipper’s resignation a “promising development.”

“Having Dr. Schipper continue on as chair would have sent a disturbing message and it would have tainted the working group's findings in the eyes of Canadians,” she said.

However, DWDC is disappointed that the University of Toronto professor did not take the opportunity to clarify his “inflammatory past statements,” Gokool added.

DWDC renews call for public consultation

The federal government has asked the CCA to study whether to extend access to MAID to include three groups who don’t qualify under Bill C-14, Canada’s 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. However, Ottawa is not calling for the CCA working groups to include recommendations for legislation in their reports to Parliament.

After the news of Schipper’s resignation went public, Gokool said the new chair of the advance requests working group should at least be publicly neutral on the issue of assisted dying. “Canadians need to know that their rights and choices will be considered fairly and without prejudice.”

In addition, she once again called for the CCA to consult Canadians as part of its studies on the future of assisted dying in Canada.

“The committees’ work must be grounded in the lived experiences of individuals who continue to be discriminated against under Bill C-14.”

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