Advocate urges government to "hold the line" on assisted suicide eligibility

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 26, 2016

Michael Bach, right, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, fields a question during a community consultation the Delta Prince Edward on the federal government’s proposed legislation surrounding physician-assisted suicide. The consultation was hosted by Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, left, and included panelists Dr. Cyril Moyse of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of P.E.I. and Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of Disabilities. 

MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

Michael Bach applauded the federal government for its decision to leave mature minors, requests for advance directives and those with mental illness as a sole underlying condition out of the upcoming legislation’s criteria for eligibility.

Government should “hold the line” when it comes to deciding who should be eligible for proposed legislation to allow physician-assisted death, an expert on community care told Islanders last night.

Michael Bach, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, applauded the federal government for its decision to leave mature minors, requests for advance directives and those with mental illness as a sole underlying condition out of the upcoming legislation’s criteria for eligibility.

He also criticized those who have called for those groups to be included.

“Some will say it’s too restrictive, but this is about assisting people who are dying. We need to do other things to assist people who are suffering but who are not at the end of their lives,” said Bach during a community consultation and panel discussion hosted by Charlottetown MP Sean Casey at the Delta Prince Edward last night.

“We think it’s a very clear boundary and we were in court to argue against this (version) going even this far because we’re concerned about vulnerable people.”

The government’s proposed eligibility includes only those who have an irremediable medical condition with a natural death in the reasonably foreseeable future.

The proposed legislation also includes a number of safeguards, such as ensuring the individual has given consent and gone through a 15-day waiting period.

The highly personal issue was front and centre during the discussion.

After the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s ban on the controversial practice in February 2015, Parliament introduced the legislation in Bill

Casey said the issue is a complex and personal subject, which is also operating on a pressing deadline of June 6.

If no legislation is passed by the deadline, there will effectively be no regulation in Canada regarding physician-assisted suicide.

Casey said the evening was to seek advice on the subject while also fielding questions and providing a background on the legislative process.

“The question before Parliament on which I need your advice is not whether there should be medical assistance for dying in the country,” said Casey. “I know for many people that’s a troubling thought that we’re not going to debate… but the Supreme Court of Canada has decided that question and they decided it 9-0.

“The whether question is closed, so now it’s ‘how?’ How do we ensure the safeguards are in place?”

The questions of eligibility and safeguards dominated much of the panel discussion, which also heard from Dr. Cyril Moyse of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of P.E.I. and Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of Disabilities.

Bach said while he sympathized with individuals in those ineligible situations, he was also “deeply and profoundly troubled” at the thought of mental illnesses or psychiatric conditions becoming grounds for eligibility.

He also pointed to Belgium, which currently allows citizens to apply for euthanasia over psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

“We’d urge the government to hold the line on this … we need to keep it focused on people who are dying with the purpose, in a very restrictive set of circumstances, to assist by hastening their death,” he said.

“It isn’t to say people who aren’t in that situation aren’t suffering… we need to address that, too. Let’s just have our eyes wide open to the risks here and what message does that send to other Canadians who live with those conditions.”

 

mitch.macdonald@tc.tc

Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI