Assisted death comes to Canada

Members of the National Post Comment section discuss today's tabling of our assisted death law.

Hey everyone. So the National Post Comment section is trying out a new tool today — something that lets us chat with each other while you in the public (hi, everyone) can follow along. Normally we’d be horrified by that, but today, it’s intentional.
Our topic today is obviously tracking with the big news story out of Ottawa. This morning, in the House of Commons, the Liberals brought down Canada’s first assisted death law, as required by last year’s Supreme Court ruling. You’ve been reading over it — what’s in there?
Oops. I meant to ask Robyn that.
I think the bill is much narrower than we expected. There was some speculation that the Liberals would come up with a law that extends access to assisted dying to children (or “mature minors,” as they called them), but the legislation specifically refers to those over 18
It does, but the Liberals say they will appoint “one or more independent bodies to study the issues of mature minors, people with mental illness and advance requests.” Which suggests it’s still not a settle issue
The Supreme Court decision also suggested that access should be available to those suffering from both physical and mental illnesses. By my reading, the bill tabled today does not include access for those suffering from chronic mental illness
Jesse, and Kelly, I think the point that Kelly just raised is really important. Because I’m not sure any of this is settled. We’ve spent decades planning for this, and I think we’ll spend 10 more years fighting the details out in the courts.
For instance, is it fair to limit this to those over 18? What are the exact rules regarding mental/psychological illnesses? Why does it only apply to those covered by Canadian health-care plans? Etc. This stuff will all get litigated.
Politically speaking, I think the Liberals did the right thing. This is a very contentious issue and this bill is clearly designed to be very conservative.
The fact that the Liberals have pledged to study the issue further indicates this likely won’t be the last time the House visits this issues.
There still seem to be a number of issues unresolved. I may have missed it, but I don’t see anything in the legislation regarding doctors who don’t want to participate, ie. whether they are required to refer a person to another doctor, can be compelled to cooperate etc.
Another good point, Kelly. Because I’m generally in favour of some system of assisted death, but I have never felt that a doctor should be compelled to, well, kill me.
@mattgurney Again, I think this is only a starting point. But it’s reasonable to start from a place where only people with the mental capacity to make an informed, reasoned decision can choose to end their own lives.
Mind you, I live in a large urban area, with a generally progressive slant on politics and many hospitals and doctors available. Finding someone to give me the needle won’t be a problem in Toronto. I can see that it absolutely would be in some parts of the country.
There is a clause that suggests medical professionals will, at the very least, be required to forward relevant information
Even by the standards of legislation, that’s particularly inscrutable. I think the Supreme Court should probably just clear their schedule for a while and get to work on sorting all this out.
Even that leaves room for question. How much information must be provided, how speedily, how willingly
I think the lack of access for children is, or will become, a big deal. Especially when we hear of a case, which we will eventually, of a 16-year-old cancer sufferer who wants medical assistance to end her life
There is a huge difference between being forced to kill someone and referring a patient to another doctor who is willing to perform a certain service. I don’t think doctors should be allowed to pretend that such services don’t exist.
For sure. And as soon as a 16-year-old dying horribly of bone cancer gets an exemption, a 15-year-old dying of ALS will come along and say, “Hey, what the hell, I have rights, too.” I don’t mean to sound flippant, but come on. I don’t think anyone expects the age limit to hold.
There’s an article in the national Post today showing that Quebec is already running into issues on its assisted death program.
Despite the restrictions, people think it’s death-on-demand. They cite a case in which one applicant met all the requirements but one, so he starved himself to the point of death to meet the last requirement...
I guess, overall, I tip my hat to the government for trying to set some limits, but a slope like this will inherently be slippery. I don’t think it must inevitably lead to some dystopian wasteland like some critics of assisted death have said.
But I think there’s no way around the fact that whatever limits the government set, there will be sliding from that. Part of me wonders if they came out with a narrower bill than was expected precisely because they know the courts will gradually expand the scope of it.
It depends by what you consider a dystopian wasteland. Practically every jurisdiction where assisted death is legal has made it gradually easier. Eventually you get to a point where suicide is pretty easy, and you wonder how you got there
Going by the logic displayed here, children could also bring a case saying they have the right to buy cigarettes. Yet the courts understand that people under a certain age are not competent enough to make certain decisions, even if that violates their charter rights.
That’s true enough, but I could also point to Oregon, which has been generally static in its regulations for years now, and where most of the authorizations for assisted suicide that are issued are never actually followed up on.
That’s true enough, but I could also point to Oregon, which has been generally static in its regulations for years now, and where most of the authorizations for assisted suicide that are issued are never actually followed up on.
In Oregon, at least, once people have the authorization to proceed with an assisted suicide in hand, and the peace of mind that brings, in a pleasantly surprising number of cases, they choose not to go ahead with it.
It is at least encouraging that the Liberals have decided to allow a free vote, which is an improvement over their position on abortion, where other opinions are forbidden
*Free vote except for cabinet members. But yes, much improved
Conservatives will also allow a free vote, which is a nice change
Allan Richarz, a lawyer and occasional contributor to the Post’s oped pages, just asked an interesting question on Twitter. He wrote: “What are the odds we’ll have a scandal involving crooked lawyers and doctors helping heirs bump off senile Rich Uncle Pennybags?”
Well, Allan, if you’re one of the lawyers, I’d say the odds are sky bleepin’ high, my friend.
@robynurback It’s very easy when you’re in opposition and don’t actually have the power to overturn government bills.
It would be interesting to know how much of this Bill had been in the works before the Liberals came to power. The Tories had months to craft their own version; this one comes just 5 months into the Liberal government
Kidding aside, though, that’s a genuine concern here. Coercion and pressure is going to be an issue we’ll have to be careful about. Robyn, have you seen anything in the text of the bill yet that addresses this?
The bill includes provisions that prohibit those with a financial stake from acting as witnesses
There are specific provisions dealing with coercion. And lawyers never skirt the law.
In other words, if you stand to inherit from the patient’s will, you cannot be a witness
You’re right. Forgive me. Perish the thought.
You’ll never prevent everyone from unethical behaviour, but as long as there are some safeguards build into the law, it can be amended as issues crop up (which they always do).
I think that in the areas the Bill deals with it’s very clear. The problem will be in areas it has avoided, or anythng that anyone can reasonably (or otherwise) claim is their Charter right. Which is a large and growing field
There’s also the issue of advanced consent, which isn’t included in this bill
Guys, we need to start wrapping up here (and thanks to everyone who’s jumped in). I’ll just ask everyone for a final thought or two.
I anticipate a large group of lawyers is already calculating how big a cottage they’ll be able to buy on the profits of challenging provisions of the law.
Brb finishing law school application
For me, I’ll just note that I’ve watched people I love die slow and hard, and I’ve been frustrated knowing they’d never have wanted to go this way, hostages of a body that hasn’t QUITE given up yet. There was no point to it.
I’m glad that assisted suicide will finally be legal in this country. If we have the right to life, we must also have the right to death. And I don’t think society has any interest in keeping people alive who do not want to go on living.
Nothing was served. It just cost lots of health-care money and was hard on everyone in the family.
So in that sense, I welcome this. I don’t know what my loved ones would have done if this law was around. I don’t know what I’d do if I was sick. But I’m glad we have an option.
That being said, I’m not exactly thrilled about this. This is grim stuff. And a lot of details will need to be sorted out. That’s not going to be a fun process, and we may not like where it brings us in the end.
I agree, Matt. The law will not be perfect, but just because we will run into bumps does not discredit the value of what the government is trying to do here. I think it’s a welcome step
OK. Thanks everyone, for participating in this chat on a newsworthy issue/test run of our fun new communications tool. We’ll be doing more of these again, and we’ll look forward to bringing in more of your replies — except Allan’s.
Take care.