Fourteen months after a West Kelowna woman posthumously helped bring about a unanimous landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down the country’s ban on physician-assisted death, the new Liberal government has introduced legislation allowing it in some cases.
While the proposed legislation does not go as far as a parliamentary committee tasked with looking at the issue called for in light of the Feb. 6, 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the government says it’s an attempt to provide the ability for doctor-assisted death while still protecting vulnerable Canadians at the same time.
The bill tabled in the House of Commons Thursday allows mentally competent adults with serious and incurable illnesses who face a “foreseeable” death the opportunity to have a doctor help them end their lives. But it also includes a mandatory 15-day “period of reflection” so people don’t make a rash decision and it also excludes several categories of “suffering Canadians,” who the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say should have been included.
“The inevitable result is that people will be trapped in intolerable suffering, or be left with no choice but to take their own lives prematurely in potentially dangerous situations,” BCCLA director Josh Paterson. The association brought the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of West Kelowna’s Gloria Taylor and another B.C. woman, Kay Carter.
The legislation also requires those seeking a doctor-assisted death to be over 18.
In 2012, Taylor and Carter were at the centre of the case that lead to the high court ruling that found Canada’s ban on physician-assisted death was unconstitutional. The court gave the then Conservative government one year to introduce legislation allowing physician-assisted suicide. When the Liberals came to power in October, the asked for a two-month extension because the former government had not developed the required legislation.
Taylor, 64 suffered from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly-known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She did not live to see the historic court decision but the court gave her the personal right to a doctor-assisted death following its hearing of the legal arguments in 2012 because her illness was progressing so quickly. She was the first person in Canada given such a right by the Supreme Court.
Taylor died of a infection associated with a perforated colon later that year and, in the end, did not require the help of a doctor.
At the time of the court’s ruling, Taylor’s mother, Anne Fomenoff, said her daughter would have been elated by the decision.
She said her daughter wanted to participate in the case because she felt strongly Canadians, suffering slow painful daeth should have the right end their lives in a manner of their choosing.
But the proposed legislation will not be as wide-ranging as Taylor may have hoped.
Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould seemed to indicate that when she admitted because the legislation was framed around several diverse views on the subject, both sides in the debate over physician-assisted death in Canada may have difficulty with aspects of it.
The BCCLA said in a release Thursday it found it “deeply disappointing” that the federal government had decided to exclude people in an “arbitrary and discriminatory way,” despite the recommendation of the all-party committee of MPs and Senators.
“This bill wants to restrict access to assisted dying to those people for whom death is ‘reasonably foreseeable’,” it said. “The Supreme Court did not require that a patient have a terminal illness. The requirement means that even individuals considered by the court in the Carter case would be excluded.”
Carter, who’s name appeared on the case title, suffered from spinal stenosis and was not going to die from that illness.
“What was guaranteed was intolerable and perhaps indefinite suffering (for her). This bill must not prevent people like Kay Carter from accessing a medically assisted death. To do so would be an outrage that flies in the face of the Carter decision,” added the BCCLA.
The legislation will now go to committee for further study before returning to the Commons for a free vote by all MPs. The bill must also have to to the Senate for a vote.