OTTAWA – Grace Pastine, Litigation Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), reacted this morning to the release of report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. The BCCLA is the civil liberties watchdog that won last year’s assisted dying case, Carter v. Canada. The BCCLA made submissions to the Special Joint Committee earlier this month, arguing that physician-assisted dying can be safely governed by the established medical norms of informed consent, which are currently used daily in life-and-death medical decisions.
Grace Pastine said: “The report is strong endorsement of the principle that assisted dying should be one of many available compassionate end-of-life health care options for critically-ill patients. It’s clear that the MPs and Senators on this committee grappled with these questions thoughtfully and seriously. We agree with the committee’s co-chair that the fundamental principle is that we trust medical professionals with our lives, and that we should trust them to assist Canadians with dying.”
Pastine added, “Groups opposed to assisted dying lobbied for restrictive laws that would create impossible barriers for critically ill Canadians. Thankfully, the committee flatly rejected these proposals. The report opposes measures that would exclude suffering Canadians from accessing a peaceful death, such as limiting assistance to patients with a terminal illness. It also rejects requiring judicial authorization or prior review panels to determine patient eligibility.”
The Special Joint Committee recommended that individuals should be able to give their advance consent to have a physician-assisted death. The BCCLA had argued specifically for this recommendation at the Committee. Pastine reacted: “We are very pleased that the committee recommended that advance consent be respected. A competent person should be able to make an informed decision now so that they will not be trapped in suffering later, when they are no longer competent or able to communicate.”
The Committee recommends that two doctors sign off on a patient’s request, and that two witnesses are required for the patient’s decision. The BCCLA had argued against these requirements as they depart from the normal standards of consent in other kinds of end-of-life decision-making. Instead, it argued that doctors should have the option to consult another physician if they believe that to be necessary, as is the case in all medical decisions.
Pastine commented: “We are concerned that the requirements for a second doctor, and for two witnesses, will be onerous for patients, particularly those in rural and northern communities, and could pose an unnecessary barrier to care.”
In February of 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that Canadians suffering unbearably with a grievous, irremediable medical condition have the right to seek a compassionate death with the assistance of a doctor. In January of this year, the BCCLA won its argument that if the government were to be granted an extension on the assisted dying ruling coming into effect, people who are suffering terribly should be able to access assisted dying in the meantime.
Charlotte Kingston, BCCLA communications, [email protected]