Waters: Medically assisted death law needs to be broadened

It's not right to limit the law to only those with terminal illness. Others facing a future of intolerable pain should also have a choice.

If money talks, the federal government has been sent a loud message from those upset about limitations in the new federal law that allows medically assisted dying for those suffering in pain from a terminal illness.

In just six hours, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which is challenging the law because it restricts those who can seek assisted dying to only those with a terminal illness, raised the entire amount it figures it will need to start fighting the new law through the courts.

The BCCLA was behind the successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada last year that won the right for medically assisted dying .

But, for many, the law did not go far enough when the Liberals finally drafted it—something the former Conservative government shamefully refused to do during its last year in power despite an order by the country’s top court to do so.

So the BCCLA is heading back to court to try and have the new law include those who are suffering, those who know they will get worse but whose deaths are not immanent.

One of the two women who fought to give Canadians the right to medically assisted deaths was West Kelowna’s Gloria Taylor. An ALS sufferer, she died before the law she fought for came into effect.

But given her comments before her death, it’s clear she would want other Canadians who are suffering to be allowed to determine the time of their deaths rather than be left with an uncertain future  when pain is all they have to look forward to in their last years.

Credit needs to go to the Liberals for acting where the Conservatives refused to. But the law they drafted falls short—despite prior recommendations that they include what is now being sought in the new law.

It’s sad that it will take another court case—or series of cases—to win the same right for those who want to die with dignity but whose death is not deemed immanent.

The sick and suffering have already won the right to die in Canada’s Supreme Court, so it’s sad they have to fight once again.

The woman at the heart of the new case is Julia Lamb, a 25-year-old suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disease with no known cure.

She will not die from her illness right away but suffers in pain every day and knows it will only get worse. She wants, and deserves, the right to plan for her death sometime in the future. But the new federal law won’t allow her to do that.

Lamb wants peace of mind knowing if her suffering becomes intolerable, she will have the right to seek a medically-assisted death.

Giving her—and other Canadians in similar circumstances— that right is simply the right thing to do.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Kelowna Capital News.