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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

1995 to 2010: Canadian Parliamentary activity

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This is a continuation of an earlier essay.

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Government activity on PAS:

bullet1995: The Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide was created in 1994-FEB "...to examine and report upon the legal, social and ethical issues relating to euthanasia and assisted suicide." They issued their final report "Of life and death" on 1995-JUN. They made a number of recommendations:

bulletFour recommendations concerning improvements in palliative care.

bulletFour recommendations concerning improvements in pain control and sedation practices.

bulletFive recommendations concerning the withholding and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.

bulletTwo recommendations concerning advance directives.

bulletOn assisted suicide, the majority recommended no changes to the Criminal Code. A minority recommended:

"...an exemption to subsection 241 (b) of the Criminal Code be added, under clearly defined safeguards, to protect individuals who assist in another person's suicide. ....They further recommend, that in order to avoid abuse, procedural safeguards must provide for review both prior to and after the act of assisted suicide."


bulletOn nonvoluntary euthanasia, the committee recommended that it remain a criminal offense, but that the Criminal Code be amended to "provide for a less severe penalty in cases where there is the essential element of compassion or mercy."

bulletOn voluntary euthanasia, the majority recommended that a less severe penalty be allowed "where there is the essential element of compassion or mercy." A minority recommended that voluntary euthanasia be permitted "for competent individuals who are physically incapable of committing assisted suicide."

bulletOn involuntary euthanasia, the committee recommended that the existing prohibition continues. 1
 
bullet1997: Justice Minister Anne McLellan said on NOV-6 that the federal government might change the law to allow reduced sentences for people found guilty of second degree murder, but had no intention of legalizing either euthanasia or assisted suicide. She admitted that she has reneged on a promise by her predecessor to hold a free vote in the House of Commons on physician assisted suicide.
 
bullet

1998: The House of Commons rejected by a vote of 169 to 66 a motion  by Svend Robinson (NDP - Burnaby-Douglas) on MAR-25. The motion would have stuck a committee of Members of Parliament to study doctor-assisted suicide. Justice Minister Anne McLellan has said that there is no need for such a study; the Senate conducted a study only three years previously. Robinson intended to introduce a similar private member's bill early in 2001.It will call on the House of Commons to:

"... look at the recent developments in the Netherlands and also to look in depth at the whole issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and make recommendations to Canadian law....In my view, the existing provisions of the criminal law are profoundly unjust and, in some cases, cruel." 2
 

bullet2005-JUN: On JUN-15, Member of Parliament Francine Lalonde of the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party, introduced Bill C-407. She said: "This is not euthanasia. This is the right to die with dignity for the person." The bill would allow a person to obtain help to commit suicide if:

bulletThey are 18 years or older.

bulletThey are experiencing severe physical or mental pain or are suffering from a terminal illness.

bulletThey have made two free and informed requests "while appearing to be lucid" more than ten days apart clearly expressing their wish to die. These wishes could be expressed either to a medical practitioner or to "the person who aids the person to die."

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said:

"The nature of assisted suicide does not allow you to provide protection for vulnerable people. The whole idea is wrong from the beginning. Assisted suicide is a direct threat to those with chronic disabilities and the elderly. It's an issue of the powerful over the weak. We can't bring in a law that allows you to kill someone." 3

If the bill had included very severe restrictions, as in the case of the Oregon legislation, then it might have had a chance in Parliament. In our opinion, this bill cannot possibly succeed because it is so loosely worded. It would allow any person, even one who is not medically trained, to decide that an individual is lucid, and then help them to die. The person seeking assistance in suicide might be simply depressed and might be helped with counseling, pain medication, and/or antidepressants. Also, the bill would allow anyone to help others to die as long as they are "assisted by a medical practitioner." But it does not define what "assisted" means in terms of the degree of oversight.

bullet2005-OCT: Bill C-407 was debated in Parliament on Monday, OCT-30. It did not proceed.
 
bullet 2008-JUN: Member of Parliament Francine LaLonde introduced Bill C-562, "An act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity). It did not proceed. 4

bullet 2010-FEB: Members of the Quebec standing committee on health and social services began hearings on euthanasia. They anticipated hearing the testimony of about 30 people and are expected to use this material to initiate a public consultation on euthanasia in the province.

Dr. Yves Lamontagne, president of the Quebec College of Physicians, favors legislation that allows an individual to request aid in dying. He said:

"That the person has a choice, I respect that. But what we do not want is the physician becoming the executor of someone else’s choice."

Legislators in Quebec do not have the authority to pass laws about PAS, even if the legislation were only to apply within the province. Such legislation is a federal responsibility and wold apply to the entire country. 5


bullet

2010-MAR: Member of Parliament (MP) Ms.LaLonde introduced still another bill to amend the Criminal Code and grant people the right to die with dignity. She said:

"Helping someone to die gently and without pain; can we call this murder? Many would say 'no.' And that's what I say. ... People are going through a painful terminal phase. We should not refuse them the right to die with dignity. ... Is the capacity to live longer what we want? Sometimes people who have an incurable disease like cancer have imposed on them a very unfortunate quality of life. ... I believe medicine will have to inevitably work towards a template for end-of-life care and for euthanasia."

The bill has little chance of proceeding.

Conservative MP James Lunney said:

"Contrary to her intentions, this bill will allow doctors to provide a patient with a lethal injection, making many Canadians vulnerable to premature death."

He may hot have noticed that the bill would require that the patient, not the doctor, would have to take the initiative in arranging their own death.

Conservative MP David Sweet warned of "unimaginative consequences." It is unclear what consequences would emerge that have not already appeared in the three U.S. states where PAS is legal.6

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This topic continues with a discussion of a 2011 lawsuit

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Of Life and Death - Final Report," The Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, 1995-JUN, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
  2. "Euthanasia Legalized in the Netherlands," Holy Bible, 2001-JAN, at: http://www.holybible.com/
  3. Deborah Gyapong, "Bloc MP tables 'die with dignity' Bill C-407," Canadian Catholic News, at: www.ccrl.ca/
  4. Marlisa Tiedemann & Dominique Valiquet, "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada," Library of Parliament, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
  5. "Most Canadians Generally Agree with Euthanasia," Angus Reid, 2010-FEB-16, at: http://www.angus-reid.com/
  6. Bruce Campion-Smith, " Assisted-suicide bill a 'slippery slope," critic warns," The Toronto Star, 2010-MAR-17, at: http://www.healthzone.ca

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Copyright © 1999 to 2010, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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