It is not surprising that many Canadians are concerned about the dangers of the new assisted suicide and euthanasia bill, C-14. What is really not credible is how the word-benders who used the Charter "right to life" to legalize the intentional suicide or killing of some patients are now protesting that they have been cheated of total victory.
If physician-hastened death is part of the continuum of medicine, then we must treat it as such. Like any other new treatment or clinical innovation, it demands careful evaluation and methodological rigor, including fixed eligibility criteria, detailed data collection, objective monitoring of outcomes and tracking of adverse effects; the ability to analyze cumulative data, with incremental ramping up entirely based on preceding trial outcomes. We would insist on no less stringency for anything else.
In any assisted-dying regime, a competent patient is free to change their mind or express their ambivalence by withdrawing a request or postponing an assisted death. To permit an assisted death to proceed on the basis of an advance directive effectively denies this protection to persons who are no longer capable of making or expressing health-care decisions.
The Parliament's Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Death, nevertheless, urged the federal government not to exclude individuals with psychiatric conditions from being considered eligible. Their reasoning comes down to this: Mental suffering is no less profound than physical suffering, so denying individuals with mental illness access to physician hastened death would be discriminatory and a violation of their Charter rights. It's an excellent point, and one worth seriously discussing.
Much of the debate surrounding Physician Assisted Death (PAD) was between those who believe in personal autonomy and the right to avoid unwanted suffering, and those who believe life is sacred and suffering is redemptive. Those same two groups are now trying to influence the creation of detailed legislation and regulations.
This summer, the Conservative government quietly announced that it had struck a panel of experts to consult Canadians on their views on assisted dying -- nearly six months after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on assisted dying. No matter that 84 per cent of Canadians support physician assisted dying, or that the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled it is a patient right. The Conservative government has consistently opposed it.
Last week the government announced the membership of the panel that will conduct the public consultation on Physician Assisted Dying. One of the questions they will have to answer are the very real concerns around how to protect vulnerable populations. People are classed as vulnerable when they are in a position of weakness relative to some other group who can wield power over them.
The importance of quality palliative care gets overshadowed by our national debate over euthanasia or medically assisted death. There is a lack of understanding about what palliative care means and how it can help to ensure that we and those we love are able to make that journey to the end of life with dignity.