Liberals urged not to ask for extension on assisted dying

Dying With Dignity Canada is urging the incoming Liberal government to rule out asking the Supreme Court for more time to implement its decision on physician assisted dying.

On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously to strike down the country’s Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying, arguing the decades-old prohibition violated Canadians’ Charter rights. The high court gave Ottawa and the provinces 12 months to prepare for the decision to come into effect.

However, according to a new report by CBC News, the Liberals under Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau are deciding whether to ask the Supreme Court for an extension of up to six months.

The leading organization working to prevent unnecessary, unwanted suffering at end of life, Dying With Dignity Canada is raising the alarm about the possibility of Canadians with excruciating, incurable illnesses being made to suffer against their will beyond the Feb. 6, 2016 deadline.

“Right now, patients across this country are living in a cruel limbo, grappling with unimaginable suffering while they wait for their rights to be fully recognized,” said DWD Canada CEO Wanda Morris. “Another six months may seem like nothing to politicians in Ottawa. But to Canadians facing horrible diagnoses, a delay of weeks or even days can mean the difference between a peaceful death and a torturous one.”

Morris urged the Liberal government to consider the painful choices the ban on assisted dying continues to force upon patients. “Nine months after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, the old law continues to drive some Canadians to seek assisted dying overseas. It compels others to end their own lives at home, prematurely and sometimes in a violent manner,” she said. “We ask our new government to lead with compassion to ensure that Canadian patients no longer have to take drastic measures to die on their own terms.”

Asking for an extension is also unnecessary, Morris said. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t require federal lawmakers to pass new legislation, and medical regulators across the country are already at work developing safeguards, she added.

“The desire to ask for an extension is understandable, but stalling is wrong and unnecessary,” Morris said. “There are steps we can take now to ensure that Canadian patients have fair, safe and timely access to physician assisted dying on February 6 and beyond.”

Later this week, DWD Canada will release a policy blueprint outlining what Ottawa, the provinces, medical associations, and provincial medical regulators must each do to make this goal a reality. And on Nov. 4, the day the new federal cabinet is set to be announced, DWD Canada supporters across the country will be calling for compassionate leadership from all levels of government as part of our National Day of Action and Solidarity for the Right to Die with Dignity.

“Our message on November 4 will be simple,” said Morris. “Don’t play politics with people’s lives. Let’s work together to make unwanted, unnecessary suffering a thing of the past.”

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