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Urgent: Can you help us protect the right to die with dignity?

The federal government announced this week that it will make changes to Canada’s law on medical assistance in dying (MAID). It has just launched a consultation process and we need your help to make our voices heard.

Today, Julia Lamb and lawyers for the BCCLA are meeting with government officials as part of a roundtable of experts and key stakeholders. We are calling on the federal government to uphold the rights of seriously and incurably ill Canadians.

We need you to join us in protecting the right to die with dignity.

You can participate in the government consultations by filling out the government’s online questionnaire. The deadline to submit the questionnaire is January 27, 2020.

The current law requires that a person be “near death” to be eligible for MAID. This unconstitutional barrier has prevented people with chronic, degenerative conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy, from accessing MAID.

The government has accepted that the near-death requirement must be removed, but it is considering whether to add new, potentially unconstitutional, hurdles to accessing MAID.

Take action and fill out the questionnaire now. If we all speak up, we can win this fight.

If you would like to see how the BCCLA filled out the questionnaire, read our submission here.

Here are some key points to consider as you fill out this questionnaire:

1. The existing MAID law has layers of safeguards that place strict limits on who can access MAID

Canada is one of a growing number of jurisdictions around the world that permits death with dignity. The current MAID law places strict limits on who can access MAID. It provides layers of safeguards to ensure that a person is competent and protected against any coercion. These current safeguards will provide strong protection, even after eligibility is broadened to individuals who are not near death.

For example, the MAID law requires that, to be eligible for MAID, a person must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring, intolerable suffering. The law regulates who can provide MAID, how it can be provided, and sets out a mandatory waiting period and the timing of when consent must be given.

Canada’s experience shows that the MAID law is safely and responsibly implemented by medical practitioners.

2. The additional “safeguards” that the government is contemplating are unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional barriers to MAID

Like the near-death requirement, the additional safeguards proposed in the questionnaire were not set out in Carter, the Supreme Court of Canada decision that established the constitutional right to MAID. These additional safeguards are potentially unconstitutional restrictions on the right to MAID, protected by s. 7 of the Charter. Further, given that these additional barriers would only be imposed on individuals who suffer from particular kinds of disabilities, they may also raise issues with respect to the Charter right to equality.

Some of the proposed hurdles, such as requiring consultation with medical specialists and imposing a mandatory psychological or psychiatric assessment, would significantly limit access to MAID, particularly for patients in rural communities.

The BCCLA is particularly concerned about the following two proposed hurdles: 

  1. MAID should be available only when the practitioner and the patient both agree that reasonable treatments and options to relieve the person’s suffering have been tried without significantly improving the person’s situation.
    • This proposed barrier flies in the face of Carter. Carter dictates that MAID must be available when the individual’s suffering is intolerable for that individual. It also specifies an individual should never be required to undertake treatments that are unacceptable to them in order to qualify for MAiD. This barrier is also inconsistent with s. 241.2(1)(e) of the Criminal Code.
  2.  An obligation for the physician and nurse practitioner to offer to discuss their patient’s situation with their family members or loved ones with the patient’s consent
    • This barrier disregards the fact that the right to die with dignity is the patient’s right and choice.  
3. Advanced requests are a necessity

The government is also seeking input on the availability of advance request for MAID. Failure to allow advance requests for MAID will violate Charter rights. To make no provision for advance requests will cause some individuals to become trapped in intolerable suffering if they lose capacity. It will lead to premature deaths by suicide by some individuals, including those with Alzheimer’s, who fear they will lose capacity once their suffering becomes intolerable.

If you would like to see how the BCCLA would fill out the questionnaire, read our example submission here.