Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould Wikimedia Commons

Physician-assisted death committee recommendations go far beyond Carter

  • February 25, 2016

OTTAWA - The special Parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying recommended Feb. 25 euthanasia for the mentally ill and opened the way for euthanasia of consenting minors.

Its report tabled in the House of Commons goes far beyond the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, which restricted physician-assisted death to consenting, competent adults with “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” that causes intolerable suffering.

The committee report recommends allowing physician-assisted death for those with psychiatric conditions, opens the way for children under 18 to be euthanized, allows for advanced directives so non-competent persons can be euthanized provided they made the directive when competent and recommends forcing physicians to make an effective referral. It also recommends all health facilities that receive public funding provide physician-assisted death.

It does not recommend any further defining of the Carter decision’s words “grievous and irremediable.” It recommends minimum safeguards of two independent physicians determining the patient qualifies for a physician-assisted death. It also recommends requests for euthanasia must be made in writing, supported by two independent witnesses.

The report does recommend Health Canada establish a Secretariat on Palliative and End-of-Life Care towards the end of establishing a national palliative care strategy. It also recommends national strategies for mental illness and dementia.

House Leader Dominic Leblanc said a decision on whether to force Liberal MPs to support the legislation will be made after the bill is drafted.

He told journalists the previous decision to whip the vote was changed after consultations with colleagues.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the report will be considered, along with the report of the external panel.

“It’s too early to say what is going to be in the legislation or what’s not going to be in the legislation,” said Wilson-Raybould.

Conservative MPs on the committee filed a dissenting report, arguing the recommendations go far beyond the limits prescribed by the Supreme Court.

“Unfortunately, the regime recommended in the committee’s main report falls far short of what is necessary to protect vulnerable Canadians and the Charter protection of conscience rights of health professionals,” the dissenting report says.

The Carter decision broadened the criteria beyond what Quebec’s euthanasia bill allowed and the special committee report broadens them even further. Asked if Quebec might be forced to have its law changed to conform to a more expansive law, Wilson-Raybould said the government recognizes the work Quebec has done in crafting its legislation. She promised collaboration with the provinces and territories in crafting the legislation, which she hopes will be passed by the Supreme Court’s June 6 deadline. She said is it “too early to predict where we are moving on a federal framework.”

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