MP Stephen Fletcher

Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher introduces assisted-suicide bills

  • March 28, 2014

OTTAWA - Canadian legalization of assisted suicide is inevitable so Parliament should settle the issue before it goes to the Supreme Court, said a former Conservative cabinet minister as he introduced two private members bills in support of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher told journalists that if Parliament does not decide the issue, the decision will be left to nine “unelected, unaccountable judges.”

One of Fletcher's bills would amend the criminal code to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia for those who request to die but are unable to kill themselves. The other bill would create a commission to research physician-assisted death, to collect data on people making the requests and to make recommendations.

The Winnipeg MP has been a quadrapeligic since age 23 after his car hit a moose, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Asked if he would be alive today if euthanasia and assisted suicide were legal at the time of his accident 18 years ago, Fletcher did not directly answer the question.

“I was intubated and could not talk or communicate," he said.

However, he said he knew he would get better. “I was at the beginning of my life,” he said.

“If I was at the end of my life in that circumstance, I would want the ability to end my life,” he said.

Fletcher said he supports individual autonomy on this issue and stated that his bills have safeguards to protect people from being forced to accept assisted suicide or euthanasia.

“People are starving themselves to death in Canada,” he said. “Doctors are increasing the morphine drip to speed up the dying process.”

All this is happening with a “nudge, nudge, wink, wink, under-the-table manner,” he said.

While opposed to Fletcher's motions, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said he welcomed the debate. The EPC is “happy to participate in an open and forthright debate that includes all information and facts about euthanasia and assisted suicide,” he wrote in an email. “The polling we’ve done indicates that the more facts Canadians have about euthanasia and assisted suicide, the more Canadians will oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

Schadenberg said Fletcher’s two bills are unlikely to come to a vote before the next federal election because he is far back in the queue of MPs who want to bring a private member's bill before Parliament, although it's possible Fletcher could trade up to a higher position.

“Mr. Fletcher is obviously seeking to create a debate on the issues in Canada," Schadenberg said.

A Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) spokesman discounted the effectiveness of safeguards proposed by Fletcher.

"As numerous studies from the Netherlands and Belgium illustrate, there is no way to provide adequate protection from abuse of legal euthanasia or assisted suicide,” said CLC’s national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas in a release.

Schadenberg said as many as 32 per cent of assisted deaths in Belgium are done without a request from the victim and many euthanasia deaths are simply not reported.

The Harper government has said it does not wish to re-open the debate on euthanasia. It was last debated in 2010 when Bloc Quebecois Francine Lalonde’s private member’s bill in support of euthanasia was defeated 228-59.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he has “tremendous respect” for Fletcher and that “his personal circumstances obviously inform his view on this very emotional issue.” But he told told journalists the government’s position “has not changed.”

Although some polls show Canadians favour legalization, MacKay said answers on polls depend on “how you phrase the question.”

NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has put forward a private member’s motion calling for a national strategy for palliative care, said he is concerned debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia will overshadow his motion that comes up for its first of two hours of debate in early April.

“If you talk to health care professionals they will tell you that palliative care is the common-sense solution staring politicians in the face,” Angus said in a news release. “I am concerned that the Liberals and Conservatives have been opting for a discussion on assisted suicide when so many Canadians are facing a lack of good quality medical support in terms of palliative and hospice care.”

Wanda Morris, executive director of Dying with Dignity, told a news conference that about 5,000 Canadians a year die deaths involving horrible suffering. This is the number of people she said would likely avail themselves of assisted death if it meant avoiding that suffering.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told journalist Mar. 26 Fletcher was “taking a step in the right direction” in “modernizing” aspects of the Criminal Code.

Delegates at the recent Liberal policy convention in Montreal approved a resolution in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was more circumspect when he spoke to journalists Mar. 26.

“On the principle of assisted suicide, I’m a Liberal so I believe in people’s individual freedoms to make decisions, but at the same time it is important in society that we protect our most vulnerable and we make sure that we are keeping people safe,” Trudeau said, adding he was looking forward to guidance from the Supreme Court of Canada.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.