Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, left, has no plans to expand assisted suicide in the near future. Wikimedia Commons

Canada's new attorney general puts euthanasia expansion on ice

  • February 21, 2019

OTTAWA – Euthanasia opponents welcomed news that Canada’s new Attorney General David Lametti says the Liberal government has no plans to expand access to assisted suicide in the near future.

“In some senses I’m relieved,” said Alex Schadenberg, who had expressed concern when Lametti was tapped to replace Jody Wilson-Raybould as Justice Minister and Attorney General. Lametti, a former law professor, was one of four Liberal MPs who voted against the so-called Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law in 2016 because he said it was too restrictive and unconstitutional.

“I had a strong feeling Lametti would give the Liberals some wind in their sails for expansion of the law because of his previous positioning in saying the law did not go far enough,” Schadenberg said.

The current law states patients must be mentally competent at the time of the procedure and it prohibits assisted suicide for minors or those with mental illness.

“At first all the media were glad to see he was named, knowing his position,” said Aubert Martin, director of the Quebec grassroots anti-euthanasia organization Living with Dignity. “They all thought it would be an open door to amend the law.”

But Martin said it did not surprise him that Lametti told the Toronto Star Feb. 13 the government will not be re-opening the law until its five-year review period is up in 2021.

“It is quite impossible for him to do so now,” Martin said. “It would not be aligned with the federal government position” in the Truchon/Gladu challenge of the Quebec euthanasia law that restricts access to those at end of life. Jean Truchon, 51, and Nicole Gladu, 73 both have chronic illness but are ineligible for euthanasia because they are not at end of life.  Hearings began in this case last month and are expected to wrap up by the end of February.

Aubert pointed out the federal government has argued that removing the restriction to end of life would endanger those with disabilities and chronic illness and “feed the negative perceptions of them already rampant in society.”

“It could open the door to legitimating suicide as a viable option,” said Aubert, noting the federal government has been defending “the inherent value of every person.”

“Too bad they didn’t understand they would be opening the door, even if restricting it to end of life,” he said.

Martin noted a similar court case is coming up in British Columba challenging a similar provision in the federal euthanasia law that a person’s death must be reasonably foreseeable.

Lametti told the Star he “had his say” on the law, and remains sympathetic to those who could not access assisted suicide, but stressed the “important balance” the law achieved as “an important first step in a moral and ethical debate.”

Schadenberg thinks the government has done some polling to show “there isn’t overwhelming support for the expanse of the law.”

In advance of the October 2019 federal election, “if they (Liberals) can’t create a wedge issue that works for them, they are going to leave it alone,” he said.

“Previous to the Bill C-14 euthanasia bill, they did polling, and found people wanted a waiting period; they did not want it for children, or for those with mental illness alone,” he said. “They saw that polling clearly showing Canadians are not in favour of these things.”

Though the review of the euthanasia law won’t take place until after the election, Schadenberg pointed out Dying with Dignity and other members of the assisted suicide lobby want to see the law expanded “so you don’t have to be competent at the time of your death, only when you make the request,” or so-called advance requests for euthanasia; for the euthanasia of “mature minors,” or children under 18; and for those with mental illness but no other illness making death foreseeable.

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