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Anti-euthanasia bill drafted by ARPA

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) has released a draft anti-euthanasia law to respond to the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) draft protocols for doctor assisted death.

The CMA plans to vote on the protocols that would include lethal injections at its annual general council meeting in August. In the meantime, it is soliciting opinion from its members.

In response, ARPA’s draft bill released July 7 would invoke section 33 of the Charter, the notwithstanding clause, to uphold Canada’s “absolute prohibitions of assisted suicide and euthanasia,” according to an ARPA news release. Invoking Section 33 would suspend for five years the Supreme Court of Canada’s Feb. 6 Carter decision that struck down some of the Criminal Code provisions against assisted suicide, paving the way for doctor assisted death, including voluntary euthanasia.

Section 33 of the Charter permits Parliament to pass legislation “notwithstanding” the court’s interpretation of Charter rights, such as Section 7, the right to life and security of the person, or Section 15, the right to equality under the law.

“In this case, the draft legislation is cited notwithstanding how the Supreme Court interpreted the ‘right to life’ of section 7 of the Charter to allow state-endorsed killing,” said ARPA.

“If Parliament refuses to even consider invoking Section 33, Canada’s nine unelected Supreme Court judges have effectively become the supreme lawmakers of Canada,” said ARPA Canada’s Legal Counsel André Schutten. “The notwithstanding clause was added to the Charter to balance the power of the judicial and legislative branches of civil government. But for the clause to have effect, it must be exercised. It is hard to conceive of a more worthy time to invoke Section 33 than now, when the basic right to life of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens is at risk.”

ARPA’s draft legislation has a lengthy preamble that upholds the “inviolable right to life of all human beings”; expresses “grave concerns about the inherent risks” legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide would pose to vulnerable people; and recognizes the “devastating social harm caused by the normalization of suicide,” among other concerns.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) executive director Alex Schadenberg said he agreed with ARPA’s approach. “From the very beginning we’ve been calling for the use of the notwithstanding clause and ARPA has acted by codifying our basic ideas into a potential bill.”

Both the EPC and ARPA were among the interveners in the Carter Case, arguing for keeping the present legal prohibition against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Schadenberg joins ARPA in concern over the CMA’s draft protocols. “I think they are being very premature in their concept around building proposed legislation.”

The CMA is “attempting to steal the show, or steal the direction and I’m not sure they are doing so in the best interest of their own members,” said Schadenberg. “My concern is they are stepping beyond their own expertise and going from being involved with lobbying to actually trying to create legislation.”

“This is not in their best interest, especially since most physicians remain opposed to (euthanasia and assisted suicide),” he said. He admitted, however, that he is not sure what current polling might show, since “there is a lot of pressure on doctors.”

Schadenberg pointed out the CMA represents doctors who have a range of opinions on the issue, but “they are going out of their way to create legislation that would allow euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

“The pendulum has swung too far,” he said. “The CMA has gone beyond the best interests of their members. If they would poll their members, they would find a lot of them are quite concerned.”

The CMA protocols suggest requiring someone requesting doctor assisted death make two oral requests at least 15 days apart, followed by a written request. Two doctors would have to attest to the person’s mental capacity, and that the decision is free from coercion and informed.

CMA ethics and professionalism director Dr. Jeff Blackmer told Postmedia’s Sharon Kirkey June 29 the protocols are meant to begin the discussion in the absence of a formal government consultation.

“When you’re operating in a bit of a vacuum like this someone has to step forward and fill it, and so that’s really our intent,” he told Kirkey.

With the House of Commons recessed for the summer and unlikely to be called back before the writ is dropped for the October election, the euthanasia and assisted suicide debate seems to have receded into the background of the barbecue circuit.

“Christians of all denominations, and all people of goodwill, should take advantage of the summer season, while their MPs are home, to let them know of their opposition to any legislation that would allow some citizens — be they doctors — to kill other citizens,” said Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) director Michele Boulva. “This barbaric evolution of Canadian society must be prevented.”

Justice Minister Peter MacKay has announced he is not running again in the next election. He had promised a formal consultation process to aid the drafting of a bill in response to the Carter decision, and even speculated the government might ask the court for an extension on the one-year deadline it gave for Parliament before the Carter decision goes into effect. But there is still no news from the minister.

“This is a sensitive issue for many Canadians with deeply held beliefs on both sides of the issue,” said Clarissa Lamb, a spokesperson for MacKay in an email. “We will be announcing the way forward on this decision in due course.”

Schadenberg said he hoped a committee of experts to guide the consultation would have been announced by now. “I think the government is trying to get it right,” he said. “The government has been communicating with quite a few people to try to find the right people on the committee so they will get effective representation. I’m not going to fault them for being careful.

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