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BC Civil Liberties reacts to federal consultation on physician-assisted dying

VANCOUVER – Today, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) reacted to the federal government’s announcement of a public consultation and external panel to advise the government on physician-assisted dying.

The external panel comes in the wake of the BCCLA’s historic win at the Supreme Court of Canada in February, affirming the right to a dignified, physician-assisted death for competent adults who are seriously and incurably ill, and who are enduring suffering that is intolerable to them.

“The Supreme Court ruled decisively that seriously and incurably Canadians have a constitutional right to a physician-assisted death. All governments must respect the constitution and the judgment of the Supreme Court by ensuring that Canadians have access to this medical service wherever they live,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Paterson added: “We hoped for a balance of views on the panel but we are deeply concerned that this panel composition is not impartial. Two of the three people on this panel were federal witnesses opposed to physician-assisted dying during the Carter v. Canada case. They have publicly argued to uphold the laws that criminalize physician assistance in dying. While these individuals are well-respected people, there is an appearance of bias. 

Despite this, we will encourage Canadians to participate. Canadians overwhelmingly support the right to physician-assisted dying, and it is the law of the land. Whatever advice this panel might provide, it is clear that Parliament must not enact a law that creates barriers for those who wish to access their constitutional right to physician-assisted dying.”

The BCCLA added that it hopes that it will be able to work constructively with the federal and provincial governments to ensure that patients are free to seek appropriate medical treatment and make fundamental choices in the context of their physician-patient relationships.

The BCCLA has been working in tandem with its ally Dying with Dignity Canada to promote equitable access to the right of physician-assisted dying since the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year.

The BCCLA added that it would like to see national standards for physician-assisted dying: “The last thing we want is a patchwork of service across the country in which some Canadians won’t have reasonable access to this constitutional right. We hope that the federal and provincial governments will work together so that people won’t be locked into suffering because of where they live.”