Last week I posted “Canadian religious leaders denounce Bill C-7: ‘Medical Assistance in Dying.'” The proposed legislation continues its progress through Parliament.
Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) has put a lot of work into analyzing the Bill and making creative suggestions for a more equitable path forward. Here is what they posted recently.
On October 31, CLF submitted a detailed brief to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST), which is currently reviewing Bill C-7, the federal government’s proposed expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAiD).
Bill C-7 would remove the eligibility requirement that MAiD recipients be at the end of life, making euthanasia available to those who are not dying or near death. It would also remove several other key safeguards, including the 10-day waiting period in cases where the patient is near the end of life, the requirement for a second independent verification of requests for MAiD, and, in some cases, the requirement that a patient expressly reaffirm his or her consent to MAiD immediately prior to receiving the lethal injection.
CLF has urged Parliament to request a constitutional reference from the Supreme Court on whether the current MAiD requirements are consistent with the Charter, and has advocated for stringent safeguards around this controversial practice.
CLF’s brief also summarizes troubling data – which has been largely obscured to date – revealing that euthanasia has been routinely performed in Canada on patients who need, but do not have access to, palliative care and/or disability support services. CLF’s brief further highlights Canadian cases in which euthanasia has been administered in violation of applicable law, and it urges the creation of an independent review body to investigate such cases moving forward.
CLF has also endorsed the recommendation of the Office of the Correctional Investigator seeking a moratorium of euthanasia in prisons after each case he reviewed raised “fundamental questions around consent, choice and dignity.”
Standing with disability advocacy organizations, medical professionals and faith leaders across Canada, CLF has been a leading voice for the rights of marginalized patients in need of support to live with dignity. CLF members drafted an open letter to Parliament, signed by over 140 lawyers, law students, and others – including the Hon. David Onley, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario – defending the right to life of all Canadians. CLF’s advocacy on these critical issues will continue.
Following are the Executive Summary and Introduction to 12-page ‘Brief of the Christian Legal Fellowship to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying,’ submitted October 31.
Euthanasia is becoming a medical “solution” for existential/social suffering
• Of the 5,631 patients who received MAiD in Canada in 2019, the nature of their suffering was characterized as: “loss of dignity” (53.3%); “perceived burden on family, friends, or caregivers” (34.0%); “isolation or loneliness” (13.7%), “emotional distress/anxiety/fear/existential suffering” (4.7%)1
• In Quebec specifically, the presence of psychological suffering has contributed to 94% of MAiD cases, including: “loss of meaning in life, […] dependence on others, [and] the perception of being a burden on one’s loved ones”.2
Euthanasia is being provided where alternative supports are needed but not accessible
• According to reports, in 2019, at least 87 patients who died by MAiD required disability support services but did not receive them. An additional 1,996 patients died by MAiD after they had access to disability support services, but the adequacy of those supports is unknown.3
• In addition, at least 91 patients died by MAiD who needed, but did not access, palliative care.4
Safeguards are not always being followed
• According to the Chief Coroner of Ontario’s review of 2,000 MAiD cases, “case reviews have demonstrated compliance concerns with both the Criminal Code and regulatory body policy expectations, some of which have recurred over time.”5
• According to the Quebec end-of-life commission, at least 62 cases in Quebec from 2015-2018 did not fully comply with federal and/or provincial law. 6
Contrary to implementing Truchon, Bill C-7 undermines the framework on which it rests
• The Truchon decision assumed the enforcement of strict requirements that ensure the capacity and informed consent of those requesting MAiD. Bill C-7 actually removes some of those very safeguards, including the requirement that “the patient remains competent…until the very end”.7
• Truchon was also premised on the conclusion that “[m]edical assistance in dying as practised in Canada is a strict and rigorous process that, in itself, displays no obvious weaknesses”.8 The data above, some of which only became available after Truchon, suggests a different story.
Granting requests for assistance in pre-emptively ending human lives9 through the public healthcare system is an inherently social act with far-reaching consequences for Canadian individuals, institutions, and society. If enacted in its current form, Bill C-7 will fundamentally redefine medical assistance in dying and its role in Canadian society. This Bill prejudices marginalized patients to the incidental effects of a regime that endorses death as an appropriate response to non-life-threatening illness and disability.
Furthermore, this Bill not only creates an unavoidable risk that some individuals could actually be euthanized against their true wishes, it increases that risk by removing key safeguards that ensure such requests are valid in the first place.
In short, the risks created by this Bill – risks that will have a devastating impact on marginalized Canadians – are grossly disproportionate to the benefits it attempts to confer on those seeking more expedient access to MAiD. Accordingly, CLF implores Parliament to preserve a more proportionate balance by confining MAiD to the end-of-life context and preserving procedural safeguards that offer meaningful protections for marginalized Canadians.