OTTAWA - A former Conservative cabinet minister left paralyzed from the neck down by a 1996 car crash plans to introduce two private member's bills that would allow assisted suicide in some circumstances.
Steven Fletcher, a Manitoba MP who was dropped from the federal cabinet last summer, is going against government policy with his legislation.
One of Fletcher's two bills would, if passed, allow doctors to help people end their lives under certain restricted circumstances. The second would set up a commission to monitor the system.
"There will be a set of statutory requirements that must be met before the act of physician-assisted death can happen," Fletcher said Wednesday before a Conservative caucus meeting.
"The commission will be taking a very close look at each case as it occurs and provide recommendations over time on how to best improve the process."
He wouldn't go into specific details, saying that will have to wait until after the bills are introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday.
The legislation is likely to face a tough time in the Commons, which last looked at the issue in 2010 and voted against it by a wide margin.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he has no interest in starting that debate again.
"I think it's a very, very personal issue, a very contentious issue, one that Parliament examined in the not-too-distant past and spoke quite clearly, pronounced itself on it, so I'm not in any hurry to reopen that issue," he said.
Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott said he will vote against Fletcher's bills.
"I think there's great palliative care and other things that we can do instead," he said.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the concept is at odds with her Roman Catholic faith.
"I take very seriously the issues associated with this and, as a result, I personally am not in favour of assisted suicide."
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the government has a duty to look at controversial issues.
"The government has to modernize our approach, whether that means working with the provinces and territories on the health aspects of this or modernizing the Criminal Code," he said. "Mr. Fletcher is taking a step in the right direction."
Fletcher said the ensuing debate is what matters, because the question is currently being argued in the courts, rather than in Parliament, where he said it belongs.
"I believe that these issues should be decided in Parliament," he said. "I think it's very important that we have a debate."
The Supreme Court of Canada, which in 1993 narrowly ruled against Sue Rodriguez in her much-debated bid for assisted suicide, has agreed to hear another British Columbia right-to-die case this spring. Rodriguez, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, took her own life in 1994 with the help of an anonymous doctor.
"When I reflect back on the Sue Rodriguez case, I really felt that she should have been able to legally receive what was ultimately done," Fletcher said.
He also said polls suggest Canadians in general support the idea.
A Quebec bill on assisted suicide died in the national assembly when the provincial election was called.
Fletcher broke his neck in 1996 when his car hit a moose. He still requires 24-hour attendant care. He recalls lying helpless in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, in danger of drowning in his own phlegm. But he says the stringent requirements in his bill likely wouldn't have let him choose to die.
"It would have been very difficult for me to have taken that option. There are safeguards."
He said his bill is aimed at those who have nothing to look forward to but pain. "This is designed to help people who are in pain and suffering and most likely lived most of their lives."
Groups representing disabled persons have argued strongly against right-to-die legislation, saying it could lead to abuses against some handicapped people. Fletcher said he disagrees.
"I'm obviously part of that group," he said. "The disabled community is not monolithic in its thinking.
"The standards are very high. They will argue about the slippery slope. I don't buy into that."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A earlier version had Fletcher's first name as 'Stephen'
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