OTTAWA (CCN) — The lone NDP MP on the parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying tabled a motion Feb. 4 to establish a right to palliative care.
MP Murray Rankin’s (Victoria, B.C.) motion would have the committee call on the government to “work with the provinces and territories on a flexible integrated model of palliative care by establishing the right to universal palliative care and implementing a Pan-Canadian Palliative Care and End-of life Care Strategy that is tied to dedicated funding.”
Rankin read that motion and several others related to palliative care into the record Feb. 4, as the committee heard the last of 62 witnesses. He told CCN he “moved a series of motions to make sure palliative care is front and centre in the committee’s report.
The committee has now gone behind closed doors to brief analysts who will draft the report that must be finished by Feb. 25.
Rankin said he does not include physician-assisted dying as part of palliative care. “No, we see them as separate issues,” he said. Palliative care is treatment to manage pain and provide dignified care “when it is clear the patient can’t be cured.”
A number of witnesses to the committee, however, have urged the government to include assisted death as part of a continuum of health care, such as that in Quebec’s euthanasia law.
Seventy per cent of Canadians can’t access palliative care and “some estimates are even higher than that,” Rankin said.
The committee “must be committed to implementing the Carter decision and providing recommendations on how it goes forward,” Rankin said, noting that was only one wing of a bird. The other wing “has to be a serious commitment to palliative care,” making it a “reality and a right.”
My motion is the very first one ensuring there is actual funding for palliative care by the federal government, he said. “We need to put our money where our mouth is.”
Euthanasia opponents welcomed the motion.
“The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has always supported a right to palliative care, so long as they do not define assisted death as a part of palliative care,” said the Coalition’s executive director Alex Schadenberg in an email.
The Coalition’s legal counsel, Hugh Scher, said palliative care already “is a right.” He expects a court will be asked to determine that. “That said, the government has already recognized, historically and presently this right, but has failed to provide the resources or the means to give effect to it.”
“That failure represents a fundamental violation of basic principles of health care and basic principles of constitutional law,” he said.
“I expect a Charter challenge will be launched shortly in the event the government does not implement such a program to reflect that right,” Scher said, noting challenges could also come if any program is “inadequate or fails to address the needs and requirements of the Canadian population to autonomy and choice in respect of health care decision-making.”
“No Canadian should be left with the choice of either suffer to death or kill yourself,” said Scher. “There is no reason in Canada why this should be the only choice left to Canadians and failure on the part of the government nationally and universally to give effect to these rights and Charter values now and over the past 30 years reflects a clear policy determination that assisted suicide is preferable to providing universal access to palliative care as a matter of right.”
Rankin said his motion is consistent with the NDP MP Charlie Angus’ (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) Motion 456 calling for a pan-Canadian palliative care and end-of-life strategy that passed almost unanimously by the previous Parliament in May 2014.
Angus told CCN he had brought in Motion 456 because the NDP knew the Carter decision was coming, as the case was working its way through the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the Carter case in October 2014.
He did not expect the Carter decision to “be as broad as it was.” Angus said he was disappointed the previous federal government “never moved on it and the Supreme Court came down like a ton of bricks and now we’re really behind the eight-ball here.”
Angus expressed concern the new government was going to be coming up with legislation that will have a “profound impact on society” with little consultation and without getting a “broad base of Canadians involved,” and “without a serious commitment to palliative care on the table.”
“This is all supposed to be wrapped up in June by law,” he said. “It will be legal to have the right to die, but not access to quality end-of-life care across the country. To me that is profoundly disturbing.