DWDC responds to release of federal studies on assisted dying

The Canadian government must not wait any longer to restore the rights of people who have been discriminated against under the federal assisted dying law, Dying With Dignity Canada says.

DWDC issued the call on Wednesday in response to the release of the Council of Canadian Academies’ (CCA) studies on medical assistance in dying (MAID). Commissioned by the federal government, the reports examine the possibility of extending assisted dying access to three groups of suffering people who are currently excluded under the federal law: 1) mature minors; 2) individuals whose primary underlying condition is a severe mental illness; and 3) individuals whose right to a peaceful death is out of reach as a result of the ban on advance requests for assisted dying.

“Even before these studies were conducted, the government was aware that Canada’s assisted dying rules discriminated against suffering people on the basis of their medical condition,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “This is inhumane, and it’s incumbent on the government to ensure that Canadians have fair and equal access to all of their end-of-life options in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The release of the CCA studies comes just over one month after the assisted death of Halifax businesswoman and advocate Audrey Parker. In the last weeks of her life, Parker raised her voice in the media about the difficult choices facing people who, like her, have been assessed and approved for assisted dying. Parker, who had lived for more than two years with incurable breast cancer, said she was opting to die earlier than she would otherwise want to because of a flaw in Canada’s assisted dying law: the requirement that the suffering person be competent immediately before life-ending treatment is administered.

“People like me are dying earlier than necessary because of this poorly thought out law,” Parker said in a written statement announcing her death. “Once someone goes through the rigorous legal and medical consent process, this should be enough. Double consent does not protect patients. It hurts us.”

Unless the government fixes this problem, many more Canadians who have been assessed and approved for assisted dying will continue to face the “cruel choice” that Parker did. “No one should ever have to choose between dying too early and losing out on their right to a peaceful death,” Gokool said on Wednesday. “Audrey’s story painfully demonstrates how flaws in the federal assisted dying rules threaten the rights of suffering Canadians in their time of greatest vulnerability and need.”

DWDC has begun reviewing the CCA’s reports and thanked the panelists involved for the immense amount of time, effort and thought they put into their work. “These reports are extremely thorough, and they confirm what suffering Canadians have told us for more than two years: that the right to a peaceful death, recognized in the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada, remains out of reach for many desperately suffering people,” Gokool said. “It should not be up to vulnerable people to go back to court to reassert their rights.

“We urge our federal lawmakers to take the only fair and just course of action: to end, without further delay, the discrimination and cruelty imposed by the law.”

(Header photo credit: Matti Blume/Wikimedia)

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