If you’ve never heard of Bill C-7 or recall only vaguely that it’s something Parliament is debating, it’s time you learned more, because C-7 can determine how and when you die.
Some background: medically-assisted death (MAiD) was legalized in Canada in 2016. The rules weren’t perfect, and anything involving legally killing people is bound to break people into opposing camps, especially doctors who take an oath to “do no harm” and yet who are there at your bedside, your angel of death.
When the subject itself is life-and-death, every issue is a life-and-death one: How sick do you have to be? How unrelenting is your pain? When are you expected to die? Is there a minimum age? Can you qualify just by being “very old”? What if your religion views suicide as a mortal sin? Does mental anguish count as much as physical anguish? And what if you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and know that in five years you’ll have no memory, and if that’s so, think there’s no reason to live, can you get approved in advance? (No, not under the current law because you’re not suffering now and you can’t get approved when your Alzheimer’s accelerates because you’re no longer of sound mind).
Then in September of last year, the Superior Court of Quebec declared both “the reasonable foreseeability of natural death” and the “end of life” criteria for MAiD to be unconstitutional. In other words, you could be living with a serious chronic condition like ALS or Parkinsons, which won’t necessarily kill you, and get approved for MAiD.
For a bunch of legal and constitutional reasons I won’t get into here, the Federal Government decided to follow Quebec’s lead and, at the same time, to institute other changes to the laws around who qualifies for MAiD. Since then, the legislation was meant to be voted on three different times by our MPs, and three different times it was delayed, from March 11 to July 11 to December 18. Then last Friday, with the Bill approved by the House but not yet even discussed in the Senate, the Minister of Justice asked for a fourth extension to February 26th.
Why so many delays? Well, COVID of course, which slows down everything; plus a minority government which doesn’t want to touch an issue so guaranteed to send voters to the ramparts; but mainly because of the rising controversy from Canadians who are only now coming to realize just how far-reaching the proposed changes will be.
The arguments for those who believe the changes will create death-on-demand were summed up cogently by Andrew Coyne in Friday’s Globe and Mail, while the arguments for those who believe the current rules for MAiD still constitute cruel and unusual punishment is argued by the lobby group Dying With Dignity.
In a nutshell, the new changes will:
- Remove your natural death being ‘reasonably forseeable’ in order to be eligible for MAiD.
- Deny MAiD to you if you’re suffering solely from a mental illness.
- Allow just one doctor to determine your eligibility for MAiD instead of the current two.
- Remove the obligation for doctors to present MAiD as an option for patients and let patients initiate the conversation about it themselves. (The Canadian Medical Association have said doctors must present MAiD as an option).
- Remove the mandatory 10-day waiting period between your request for assisted suicide and its execution, to allow for a change of heart.
- Neither will two witnesses be required to witness your request. Henceforth, one will do.
It’s important to understand that not all doctors, let alone all among Canada’s 300+ MAiD doctors and nurse practitioners, agree with the legislation. Last week, one of them, Liberal Member of Parliament Dr. Marcus Powlowswki, said he would vote with his conscience and against his party when the Bill was voted on in the House. As he told the CBC, “My biggest concern, as someone who has spent my whole life trying to avoid accidentally killing people, is that we don’t end up using MAID for people who don’t really want to die.”
He’s not the only one.
My wife Jean also happens to be a MAiD doctor. She was one of the founding members of CAMAP, the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers, and serves on the medical advisory committee of Dying with Dignity.
Even she is saying “Hold on. This is all too rushed.”
But while she understands that these new laws can have a profound effect on who is eligible for MAiD, she laments what those changes will create for MAiD doctors.
Friday’s edition of The Plague-Ground will offer her perspective on the changes Bill C-7 will bring from a MAiD doctor’s standpoint. Friday is also the day the House of Commons rises for its Christmas break, when all of this was meant to be signed, sealed and delivered.
Perhaps this is one time when government delays are better than haste.