Peter Stockland: What’s the rush on Bill C-7?

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  • November 14, 2020

A mad push appears to be on to get the federal government’s MAiD legislation out of committee and into the House of Commons for rapid passage.

Bill C-7, as it’s called, went to the committee for study on Oct 29. After four two-hour hearings over two weeks, the legislation will go through final review and jump through the hoops so it becomes law by early December.

Yet new polling data from the Angus Reid Group and my colleagues at the think tank Cardus argue strongly for slowing down so concerns of Canadians can be addressed. Survey results show 49 per cent of people in this country qualify as only “cautious supporters” of medically-assisted dying.

More, 69 per cent, express concern that expansion of MAiD will lead to people with mental health issues such as depression choosing to die from a lethal injection rather than address underlying causes of their conditions.

And 65 per cent fear expansion through legislation will pressure vulnerable Canadians to choose MAiD in order to avoid being a burden on others.

Those are startling numbers that claw back federal Justice Minister David Lametti’s justification for fast-tracking C-7, i.e., that choosing the time and place of one’s death has 80-per-cent support in Canada. While that raw number came out of Angus Reid polling last January, it obscures nuances crucial to understanding concerns about MAiD. It fails to take into account, for example, how support for doctor-administered death in Quebec skews attitudes in the other provinces and territories.

“There is a striking contrast between respondents in Quebec and other provinces regarding attitudes toward MAiD,” the Angus Reid-Cardus report says. “Fifty per cent of Quebecers report feeling enthusiastic about the expanding access to MAiD, compared with 27 per cent in the rest of Canada.” 

Even that divide requires further digging because as the polling shows: “70 per cent of Canadians say policymakers should give quite a lot or a great deal of consideration to whether more investments and wider access to MAiD will mean less investment by the government in traditional palliative care for the dying.”

In other words, whether or not Canadians prefer MAiD for themselves, almost three-quarters want palliative care available and properly funded. As palliative care expert Dr. Leonie Herx told me in a recent interview, they might be shocked to learn details of the imbalance that already exists in the health care system between natural and hypodermic death.

Dr. Herx, a division chair of palliative medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, says even under the MAiD regime in place since the federal Criminal Code was amended in 2016, medically administered death is now treated — and budgeted for — as palliative care. That, as she points out, is the case despite palliative care being “what 98 per cent of (what) people who die want. Only two per cent of people who die will choose MAiD.”

Yet in Ontario, doctors who provide MAiD are able to bill all their costs for “indirect care” such as reviewing charts, talking to family members or visiting patients at home under cost codes intended for palliative care. What would seem to be perverse, Herx says the dollars don’t flow in the other direction.

The redirection of public health care dollars could be viewed as evidence of a power play to: a) make MAiD indistinguishable from palliative care and b) eliminate it entirely. If that’s the case now, what happens when the passage of Bill C-7 radically expands MAiD further? Surely, it’s a question worth the Commons justice committee taking the necessary time to answer.

But Dr. Herx, among hundreds of physicians who’ve signed an open letter urging the Liberals to delay C-7 until such concerns are resolved, says the refusal to even consider the questions fits with the government’s “reckless” drive to legalize and now expand MAiD.

There’s no question MAiD has Canadians’ qualified support. But doctors, and now the Angus Reid-Cardus poll, say citizens want a voice in the form it takes. Wouldn’t it be political madness to ignore them?

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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