Add your voice in support of Canadians’ right to medical assistance in dying

by | September 7, 2017

In , the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s ban on medical assistance in dying (MAiD). The Liberal government finally created a replacement law, but one that was so poorly constructed, wouldn’t even have allowed MAiD for the plaintiff of the Supreme Court case.

That’s where things have sat for the last year-and-a-half while we’ve been fighting other battles, mostly dealing with quote-unquote “conscientious objections” to providing legal medical procedures. But the terribad Liberal assisted dying bill has not been unchallenged. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott have both been called to the floor to defend their bill, which puts unclear and unnecessary restrictions on who can access MAiD in Canada.

Three of the main issues that are being objected to are:

  • Advance requests, where a person could stipulate in a living will their desire for medical assistance in dying if their quality of living deteriorates to a certain point and they are unable to consent at that time. In particular, patients with degenerative diseases could specify their desire while still lucid, in anticipation of an expected decline in their faculties.

  • Requests by mature minors, where a minor who can demonstrate reasonable maturity and understanding could request medical assistance in dying.

  • Requests for MAiD in cases of a solely mental medical condition.

Currently all three of the above are not allowed under the existing Liberal assisted dying law.

That means that people who know they are going to lose their mental faculties to a degenerative disease must either request assistance in dying immediately – even though they could live happily for several more years (and they might not even be eligible for MAiD at that point) – or risk degrading into an intolerable state that they cannot escape from because they no longer have the ability to register consent. It’s a horrible and completely unnecessary situation to put people in. With the ability to make advance requests, people can prevent themselves from being trapped in intolerable living conditions because they have lost the ability to consent, without having to give up any of the good time they have left.

The question of whether to allow minors to request medical assistance in dying is understandably emotionally fraught. But the hard reality is that as much as we may want to protect minors, they can and do occasionally suffer from horrifying diseases that make their lives unbearable. How cruel it is to force them to live in agony and suffering until they reach the age of majority, assuming they even have the ability to consent by then! If they can demonstrate emotional and intellectual maturity equivalent to a legal adult, it seems only fair to allow them to decide for themselves if they want to end their suffering on their own terms.

The third issue at hand is the question of whether to allow MAiD for people who are only suffering from a mental illness. This is the most controversial issue of the three. 83% of doctors support advance requests, and 67% support allowing mature minors access to MAiD… but only 51% support allowing MAiD for mental-illnesses only. On the one hand, doctors are understandably reluctant to allow MAiD for cases of mental illness because patients frequently recover from mental illnesses to a degree and in a way they usually don’t from physical illnesses. On the other, humanism suggests that we should allow everyone control over their own lives – including control over their deaths; there doesn’t seem to be any justification for refusing someone a good death if they want it just because we think we can “fix” them.

Right now the Council of Canadian Academies is asking for input on a review on Canada’s medical assistance in dying law focusing on these three issues. Both Dying With Dignity Canada and the BC Humanist Association are calling on the public to add their voices to call for an end to the draconian restrictions of the Liberal assisted dying law.

Dying With Dignity Canada has provided a toolkit you can use to create a letter for submission to the CCA. If you have a personal story to tell, you can use their toolkit to prepare a submission, and DWDC will handle submitting it for you.

Meanwhile the BCHA has prepared a submission of their own, and is seeking people willing to endorse it. Their target is 250 names, of which – as of writing this, at 80 names – they are almost a third of the way there. Even if you don’t have a personal story to share (via DWDC), consider adding your name to the BCHA submission.

In either case, the submission deadline is , so be sure to get your submission or endorsement in by then.

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