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Charles Lewis: B.C. man’s death casts a long shadow

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  • October 9, 2019

The death of Alan Nichols took several months to make it into the mainstream news. And as of this writing, it is still a blank spot. His case should have been big news because of what it indicates for the future of this country and the safety of our most vulnerable.

Nichols was put to death with three injections on July 26 in a Chilliwack, B.C., hospital. He was not dying. He suffered from a mental illness. 

Under the law that created so-called Medical Aid in Dying, or MAiD, he should never have been eligible for intentional death. Putting that serious restriction aside, anyone eligible for euthanasia is supposed to be of sound mind. 

So his case seems to have broken two elements of the law.

Avis Favaro, the medical correspondent with CTV News, should be given high praise for reporting this story when others have steered clear.

Gary Nichols, Alan’s brother, told CTV he was certain his brother would not be given permission by medical authorities to end his life.

“He didn’t have a life-threatening disease. He was capable of getting around. He was capable of doing almost anything that you had to do to survive. I didn’t think he had a sound mind at all.”

Alan Nichols had suffered from severe depression for years. There is no doubt that he had suffered. But even his close relatives did not see that as a reason for him to die.

“Alan did not fit the criteria,” Trish Nichols, Alan’s sister-in-law, told CTV. “Alan was capable of talking, he was sitting up, he was eating, he was going to the bathroom, we were laughing, (and) he was out of bed. I knew by looking at him that he still had living to do. He was not near the end of his life.

“We spent 50 years helping Alan live, and in one month they signed his death warrant. How can that happen in that period of time? Where’s the legislation to protect us?”

This case by itself is alarming, but when put together with two other events, it seems it is proof positive that euthanasia in this country is quickly sliding into territory that the politicians and their pro-death supporters promised it would never go.

In December 2016, six months after the “safe” euthanasia law was enacted, the government commissioned the Council of Canadian Academics to look into whether it was feasible to extend euthanasia to those with mental illness, to allow for advanced directives for those concerned about one day being, for example, in a coma, and to allow euthanasia for mature minors — a.k.a. teenagers.

The final report, released December 2018, actually reaches no conclusions on any of these three topics. 

Here is what the experts said, for example, about euthanasia for mature minors: “The view that minors are in need of heightened protection is a widely shared concern. Despite research demonstrating that some minors are capable of making critical health care decisions, including end-of-life choices, some argue that minors as a group are too vulnerable to be given the ability to request MAiD.” 

It goes on to say maybe they are not in need of heightened protection. It also says it is unclear how the teens’ families will feel when their child commits suicide.

Frankly, I do not blame the panel members for their indecision. These are life and death issues that could affect Canadians for generations to come. 

However, we need to ask why the government asked for this study in the first place. Those who approved it must have thought allowing teens to commit legal suicide might not be a bad idea or that mental illness should not get in the way of a death request. 

Why, after guarantees put into the 2016 law, was the government looking at ways to break their initial promise of a safe and restrictive bill?

Do not be surprised if these issues come up again soon. In fact, they already have. 

In mid-September a Quebec Superior Court judge declared our euthanasia law too restrictive and that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case involved two people with painful degenerative diseases who were not in danger of dying.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau then said on the campaign trail that he’ll introduce legislation to expand access to assisted suicide if re-elected.

When those of us railed against the enactment of a law making euthanasia legal we were accused of fear mongering. Actually those critics were right. We were trying to make people fearful of a law that could eventually break its own restrictions and run amok.
Now it has.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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