Just six years after legalization, the availability of assisted suicide in Canada is about to expand again.
But members of Parliaments and senators who’ll tackle these life-and-death questions don’t have enough time to consider all the weighty matters before them.
Much less have they taken stock of how assisted suicide has affected the entire health-care system, palliative care and the lives of marginalized Canadians.
The Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying gave organizations just 24 hours to suggest witnesses before it started hearings on its monumental task.
It has just eight weeks to produce a report examining assisted suicide for teenagers and children, advance directives, mental illness as an eligibility criterion, and protections for persons with disabilities.
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It also must perform a five-year review of the Palliative Care Act.
With their timeline, there’s no way MPs and senators can do a thorough job and credibly claim they sought input broadly and fairly.
Meanwhile, a government-appointed group of experts has already been meeting privately to discuss how to make assisted suicide available to those suffering from mental illness.
Their report, due on May 23, is expected to skip past the “whether to expand” question, making that part of the hearings moot.
Usual practice would have committee staffers drafting the report a month before the deadline as parties must negotiate its wording, which then needs translation before release.
So well before the hearings end, conclusions will already have been drawn.
This is a farce – a poor attempt to check off the ‘consultation’ box ahead of changes with far-reaching consequences.
Issues of life and death merit more time and energy.
Voices of concern deserve the respect and dignity of having a chance to speak and knowing they’ve been heard.
Canada has already expanded eligibility for assisted suicide to those whose death isn’t “reasonably foreseeable” and eliminated several safeguards.
Personal accounts abound regarding the multiple, deadly problems with assisted suicide today.
MPs and senators need to consider the case of a 51-year-old Ontario woman with multiple sensitivities who wanted to live and could’ve had a full and meaningful life if she’d been able to find adequate housing.
Instead, she received a medically-assisted death because she couldn’t find a home without the cigarette smoke and chemical cleaners that set off her multiple chemical sensitivities.
The committee should also provide answers to those who find themselves in circumstances like Arthur Cole’s.
In his 80s and suffering from cancer, Cole requested home palliative care to help manage his pain.
Instead, a doctor “offered to make a house call” to help him die.
Cole met his end at the tip of a syringe because palliative care wasn’t available.
No one should forget Roger Foley, a man in his 40s with a neurological disease who wanted home care but would instead receive multiple offers of a medically assisted death.
We already know seven in 10 Canadians feared eliminating the requirement of “a reasonably foreseeable death” would cause people with disabilities or elderly patients to feel “more pressure to choose death in order to avoid being a burden on others.”
In April 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities reported “worrisome claims about persons with disabilities in institutions being pressured to seek medical assistance in dying, and practitioners not formally reporting cases involving persons with disabilities” in Canada.
University of Laval bioethicist Dr. Cory Labrecque has warned that assisted suicide may create “conflicts at the end of life that impede trust in the relationship between the health-care professional and the patient (and patient’s family).”
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Has Parliament examined the erosion of trust between doctors and patients since 2016?
Has any report considered how many of Canada’s best and brightest are no longer considering a medical career for fear of being forced to participate in assisted suicide?
Without scrutinizing existing problems, how can the government even think of tackling the incredibly complex issue of assisted suicide for those with mental illness?
Since 2015, we’ve gone from Supreme Court recognition of a right to assisted suicide (while also calling for strong protections for the vulnerable) to assisted suicide being the immediate cause of 2.5 per cent of all deaths in 2020.
Why the headlong rush into expansion while so many questions remain?
How do we sort out the contradictions between investing in mental health and suicide prevention for some while encouraging death for others?
These issues are politically complicated and without a real payoff, given the deep divides within Canada.
Surely, though, governing responsibly means serious consultations and listening, not just going through the motions to check off the consultation box.
Ray Pennings is executive vice-president of the think-tank Cardus.
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