COLUMN: From the Hill -- Parliament Inches Forward on Death with Dignity Legislation

By Contributor
March 8th, 2016

In Parliament we take up and debate issues from across the spectrum, from the relatively simple to the most serious of topics. Recently one of the most serious issues in a long time came before us: Physician-Assisted Dying.

On February 6, 2015 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the Carter case, finding that Canadians who are suffering intolerably because of a grievous and irremediable medical condition have the right to request medical aid in dying. The Supreme Court gave the government until June 6, 2016 to have a new law governing medical aid in dying in place.

Faced with that deadline, the federal government created the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying to make recommendations on a legislative response to this decision. That committee heard from over 13,000 Canadians, more than 100 organizations, held 11 hearings, called 61 expert witnesses and received more than 100 written briefs from groups across Canada. The committee rendered its report at the end of February, making 21 recommendations to help craft a balanced bill on medical aid in dying. It also proposes 10 safeguards, including eligibility criteria and procedural checks, to ensure that vulnerable individuals are protected.

Of the report recommendations, those around the importance informed consent are obviously the most critical in my mind, and if advance directives are given they must be crystal clear.  The safeguards include a waiting period and a requirement that two doctors must conclude that the patient meets the requirements of the legislation.

I was happy to see that the report formally calls on the government to implement the NDP’s initiative to create a Pan-Canadian Strategy on Palliative and End-of-Life Care and re-establishing the secretariat on palliative care.  It is important that citizens not be forced to consider assisted dying simply because they don’t have access to proper palliative care or suitable mental health supports.

We now await the government’s response to the report in the form of the new legislation called for by the Supreme Court decision. I urge the government to move forward with balance, respect and sensitivity. Above all, the new act must protect the vulnerable in our society.  As the government drafts legislation, they must continue to engage and communicate with Canadians. With that in mind, I invite everyone to read the report (available online at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/PDAM) and invite you to share your views with me:  richard.cannings@parl.gc.ca

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