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Protect health workers

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  • April 28, 2016

The federal government’s assisted-suicide legislation is chilling both for what it says and what it doesn’t say.

Bill C-14 proposes Criminal Code amendments to permit health-care workers to administer lethal injections to consenting adults who are suffering and facing what is vaguely called a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death. Although expected, this represents a radical and regressive change in Canada’s approach to death and suicide.

In place of a moral responsibility to talk suicidal individuals off the metaphorical ledge, it will become legal — and even regarded as humane — to give some of these suffering people a final push. The legislation euphemistically dresses this up as a progressive medical option, but the cold fact remains that it is killing, and it is wrong.

Equally disturbing is the legislation’s silence on important questions about the conscience rights of health-care workers and medical institutions. Any doctor, nurse or institution that objects on moral or religious grounds to killing or facilitating the killing of a patient should be legally entitled to refuse to participate directly or indirectly in this grim practice. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes conscience and religious rights. Bill C-14 should unequivocally do likewise.

Instead, the legislation sidesteps the matter. The law won’t force health workers or institutions to inject consenting patients or send them elsewhere to die, but neither does it offer explicit protection for those who, on moral or religious grounds, refuse to do so. The government seems content to pass the buck on this contentious issue to provincial governments.

That raises the alarming spectre of doctors in some jurisdictions being forced to provide referrals for assisted suicide or face sanctions, including the prospect of losing their medical licence. For Catholic and other religious medical institutions, it could mean a choice between staffing assisted-suicide wards or facing penalties that could include denial of public funding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the Liberals the “party of the Charter” when defending his support of abortion. Yet by ignoring religious and conscience rights Bill C-14 has pulled the Charter rug out from under health-care workers. Likewise, it offers hospitals, hospices and other medical institutions no explicit protection, no hint that Ottawa supports the religious and conscience rights enshrined as fundamental freedoms in the Charter.

This glaring flaw cries out for remedy before Canada takes the inevitable and tragic plunge into the depths of medicalized assisted suicide.

If legalized killing must come to Canada, then it should be available to the smallest pool of people possible and the law must provide absolute protection for every person and institution that wants nothing to do with it.

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