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Federal government asks Canadians for their views on medical assistance in dying

14 January 2020

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

As the federal government launches a public consultation on laws governing assisted suicide, opponents are calling any move to expand the practice proof of the slippery slope they have long predicted.

Ottawa announced the consultation process on Jan. 13 as it amends the Criminal Code to permit greater access to assisted suicide. The amendments are in response to a Quebec court decision last September that struck down parts of the existing law as unconstitutional.

“What are we going to allow?” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

He said his organization is worried that minors and people with mental disabilities will eventually become eligible for a medically-induced death, as happened in other jurisdictions in the world which have legally-sanctioned suicide.

The public consultations, primarily conducted through an online survey, will last just 14 days, ending Jan. 27. The rush is a response to a Quebec ruling that stated that Ottawa’s criteria of death being reasonably foreseeable and Quebec’s “end-of-life” requirement for so-called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) were too restrictive and therefore unconstitutional.

“The court’s ruling will come into effect on March 11, 2020, unless an extension is granted by the court. While this ruling only applies in the province of Quebec, the Government of Canada has accepted the ruling and has committed to changing the MAiD law for the whole country,” said a justice ministry statement.

While Canada rewrites the law that was passed in 2016, opponents of medical suicide continue to argue that more resources are needed for palliative and hospice care so that people  have the option of receiving compassionate care until their natural death.

Schadenberg points out that palliative and hospice care are being entangled in the assisted suicide debate when they are, in fact, entirely separate. He pointed out that the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Association of Palliative Care Physicians (CAPCP) issued a joint statement stating categorically that medically assisted suicide is not an “extension of palliative care” but a violation of hospice and palliative medical goals of care.

When the federal government passed its assisted-suicide law in 2016, it promised a larger review of the regulations after five years, primarily focusing on what the government called three complex issues: requests for death from mature minors, advance requests from people who might lack the capacity to consent at a later time and requests concerning people with mental illness.

“Updating Canada’s MAiD law will expand eligibility for MAiD beyond people who are nearing the end of life, and could possibly result in other changes once the review is complete,” said the justice ministry.