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Reports look into expansion of euthanasia law in Canada

  • December 18, 2018

OTTAWA – The Liberal government has promised to study three new reports on the possible expansion of the euthanasia law to include minors and those who suffer from mental disorders, but advocacy groups warn the government will likely expand the law after the 2019 election.

“My position is the Liberals do plan to expand the euthanasia law and Dying with Dignity is pressuring hard on the issue of advanced requests,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “I also see them expanding it to children.”

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) submitted three separate reports in mid-December that studied whether to expand access to assisted suicide for “mature minors,” for those who had made advance requests for euthanasia should they become incompetent, and for those who suffer from mental disorders with no underlying physical condition that would make their death reasonably foreseeable.

“The results of these three independent reviews will help to inform dialogue on the issue of medical assistance in dying among Canadians and decision-makers,” said Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who tabled the CCA reports in the House of Commons Dec. 12, in a joint statement with Health Minister Ginette Pettipas Taylor. “Given the complexity and sensitivity of these topics, it will be important to take the time necessary to consider the evidence presented in the CCA’s reports.”

“It seems like they are trying to walk the line, just sort of put out the information and not really take the position,” said Amy Hasbrouck, a disability rights expert who heads Toujours Vivant/Not Dead Yet, an advocacy group for the disabled community.

Hasbrouck noted Quebec’s new government has indicated it will expand the province’s law to include advanced directives.  As well, there is ongoing litigation at the federal and provincial level that would “dispense with the idea you have to be at end of life for death to be reasonably foreseeable,” she said.

There is also pressure for euthanasia of children, “oddly enough coming from the parents of children with disabilities,” she said, referring to a study done by the Canadian Pediatrics Society that showed most requests for the euthanasia of children under 17 came from the parents not from the children themselves.

Hasbrouck expressed disappointment there was not more representation on the CCA panel from the disabled community. Toujours Vivant was the only one to come from the disabled community. First Nations perspectives were also missing.  

Schadenberg said he is glad the CCA reports were not consensus reports, but reflected the wide divergence of opinion on the various questions.

The CCA report offered pro and con arguments for child euthanasia, with no clear direction, says Schadenberg.

The CCA report on euthanasia for those with mental disorders alone also featured pro and con arguments, acknowledging the contentious nature of the issue, but warned if Canada were to allow it, based on the current “subjective assessment” of intolerable suffering, “it could become the most permissive jurisdiction in the world with respect to how relief of suffering is evaluated.”

“On the issue of mental illness, I can see them hesitating on that one,” Schadenberg said, noting that in order to allow it, the law would have to remove the section of the law that says death must be “reasonably foreseeable.”

But like Hasbrouck, Schadenberg is concerned expansion of the law could come through the courts.

The safeguard of “reasonably foreseeable” is already under challenge in the courts, he said, though the Supreme Court of Canada recently declined to speed up the case of Julia Lamb, a B.C. woman with spinal muscular atrophy who is not terminally ill, yet wants the ability access assisted suicide. 

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