Speak up on assisted suicide
The subject of death and dying are sensitive issues with which individual families grapple. But over the next four months, life and death are going to have to be part of our national conversation.
As a result of a recent Supreme Court decision, the government needs to draft new legislation on euthanasia and suicide. Last year, the court ruled in a decision called Carter that the complete prohibition on euthanasia was “over-broad,” because (in their view) a less restrictive regime could still achieve the designated objective of protecting the vulnerable. Some lawyers have argued that a complete prohibition on euthanasia would still be constitutional, if a new law identified a different objective. Even within a more permissive legal regime, there is still a lot of room for debate.
Euthanasia advocates often use the so-called “hard case” to justify legalization. What should happen, they ask, when a competent adult with a terminal illness faces intolerable, incurable, and unmanageable suffering? This is an important situation to think about — but this case is not representative of most people seeking hastened death.
Imagine the case of someone who is suffering — but that suffering can be alleviated through effective palliative care — and yet the health system would find it easier to offer them death than effective (but expensive) pain management. Should that person be allowed to die?
Imagine a senior who is used to independence. But, as a result of a changing condition, faces the prospect of needing 24-hour care and toileting assistance. Should that person be allowed to die?
Imagine an athlete who gets in a car accident and finds herself severely disabled. No longer able to do what she loves, she contemplates suicide. Should she be allowed to die?
Imagine a 17-year-old with severe (but not incurable) clinical depression. Should that person be allowed to die?
Over the last few weeks, I have attended meetings of the Parliamentary committee studying assisted suicide and euthanasia. Unfortunately, the committee has not heard from a balanced group of witnesses. We have heard three separate presentations from the same pro-euthanasia lobby group, but none from any anti-euthanasia lobby groups.
The witness list is ultimately controlled by the government majority. I am concerned about the direction of the committee — some members appear to support euthanasia for children and for the mentally ill, oppose advance-review or firm waiting periods, want to allow advance directives for euthanasia, and oppose conscience protection for physicians.
Parliament has to respond to Carter in some way, but in my view, we need an approach that is restrictive and protects the vulnerable. Human dignity is not dependent on circumstance, and it is the job of our health care system to reverence human dignity in all its forms.
If you want to have your voice heard on this issue, please write to me, the Justice minister, and the prime minister as soon as possible.
Garnett Genuis is the member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Genuis was first elected in October 2015.
Published: Thursday, February 11, 2016