Dying With Dignity Canada decries ‘discriminatory’ proposed amendment to Bill C-14

Update: Senator Carignan's amendment, which would have required non-terminal patients to receive a judge's permission to access assisted dying, was voted down in the Senate on Thursday.

Dying With Dignity Canada is speaking out against a proposed amendment to Bill C-14 that would require desperately ill Canadians to seek a judge’s permission to access medical assistance in dying.

Tabled by Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, the amendment came on Thursday during the Senate debate over possible changes to the Bill C-14, the Liberal government’s assisted dying bill. If passed into law, the judicial authorization requirement would apply to individuals who qualify for assisted dying based on the criteria laid out in the Supreme Court’s 2015 Carter v. Canada decision, but who are not at end of life.

“It is unconscionable to force people grappling with catastrophic diagnoses to go to court to exercise what is now their right to a peaceful end to their lives,” said Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “This rule will foist an immense burden upon individuals who are already suffering unbearably. It must be removed from the bill.”

DWDC’s position is motivated by the experiences of Canadians who sought assistance in dying in the period between February and early June, when access could only be obtained through a court order. This requirement expired on June 6, when the Supreme Court’s Carter decision came into force.

“Unless they had pro-bono legal help, applicants racked up tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees even before their cases went in front of a judge,” she said. “The enormous cost, time and effort involved in the process compelled other horrifically ill Canadians to hold off until after June 6 to seek final relief. They deserve better than the hardship and indignity of having to take their cases to court.”

Gokool called on Parliamentarians to consider the disproportionate impact this requirement would have on groups of Canadians — those in poverty, women, racialized minorities, seniors, and persons with disabilities — who are more likely to encounter systemic barriers to accessing justice.

“Compassionate aid in dying is now a right, not a privilege to be accessed exclusively by the wealthy and well-connected,” she said.

Carignan tabled his amendment the day after senators voted 41-30 to replace the eligibility requirements in Bill C-14 with the original criteria from the Supreme Court’s decision. In doing so, the Senate removed the bill’s most problematic component: the requirement that an individual must already be nearing death in order to qualify for assisted dying.

“Senators took a powerful stand for Canadians’ rights by correcting Bill C-14’s most egregious flaw,” said Gokool. “We urge them not to replace one harsh, discriminatory policy with another.”

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