Dying With Dignity Canada urges rights-based approach to changes to the federal assisted dying law

Dying With Dignity Canada is urging the federal government to pursue a rights-based approach as it considers changes to the 2016 assisted dying law.

On Monday, the federal government of Canada announced it was opening consultations across the country to inform its response to the recent Quebec court decision in Truchon v. Canada (Attorney General). The leading national charity defending end-of-life rights in Canada, DWDC welcomes the consultation process and is calling for a patient-centred approach to changes to the law. The organization urges the government to respect Justice Christine Baudouin’s decision that struck down the requirement in law that limits assisted dying access to only those applicants whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable.”

“As Justice Baudouin concluded in her thorough, thoughtful decision, this requirement is harmful to patients and in some cases, it denies them their constitutionally protected right to a peaceful death,” said former Senator James Cowan. “It is incumbent upon our lawmakers to remove this unconstitutional requirement right away.” 

The removal of the reasonably-foreseeable criterion does not necessitate the inclusion of new safeguards, Cowan added. “We caution the government against adding unnecessary roadblocks in the law that, instead of protecting vulnerable people, unfairly restrict access to medical assistance in dying,” he said. “The government should heed the words of Justice Baudouin, who concluded that the existing safeguards are sufficient to protect vulnerable people who can’t consent to MAID or simply don’t want to avail themselves of it.”

DWDC reiterated its four-point list of top priorities for the first six months of the new Parliament. The organization is urging Ottawa to:

  • Amend the federal assisted dying law to reflect the Quebec Superior Court decision in Truchon v. Canada (Attorney General)
  • Pass Audrey’s Amendment in support of the rights of people who’ve been Assessed and Approved for medical assistance in dying (MAID) (see below)
  • Commit to amending the law to permit advance requests for MAID, as recommended by the Special Joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying in 2016. The current ban on advance requests unfairly prohibits many people with capacity-eroding conditions such as dementia from accessing their right to a medically assisted death
  • Prepare for the launch of the legally mandated fifth-year Parliamentary review of the federal assisted dying law, and ensure the public has meaningful opportunities to provide feedback on the future of MAID in Canada

Federal lawmakers, Cowan said, should also take this opportunity to pass an amendment in honour of Halifax’s Audrey Parker to correct a flaw in the law that is leading some people to access assisted dying earlier than they would otherwise like. A former makeup artist and TV image consultant, Parker raised her voice in the national media about the “cruel choice” facing people who have been Assessed and Approved for assisted dying.

Stricken with terminal breast cancer that had spread to her bones and brain, Parker died with medical assistance on Nov. 1, 2018. She had wanted to spend another Christmas with her loved ones, however, she chose to access assisted dying early as the result of a legal provision that requires people who’ve been approved for assisted dying to reconfirm their consent right before the procedure is provided. In practice, this rule leads some people to end their lives days or weeks before they’re truly ready, out of fear they might lose capacity before MAID can be provided.

“The law has forced me to play a cruel game of chicken,” Parker said in a video address filmed days before she died. “I would like nothing more than to make it to Christmas, but if I become incompetent along the way, I will lose out on my choice of a beautiful, peaceful and, best of all, pain-free death.”

Public consultation

The Government of Canada is asking for the public's feedback on potential changes to the federal assisted dying law. People who wish to participate in the government's online consultation on MAID have until 11:59 p.m. PST on Jan. 27 to do so. For more information on DWDC's positions on potential changes to the law, consult DWDC's Post-Election Advocacy Toolkit. [edit: as of March 18, the results of the federal government's consultation on MAID can be found here.]