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Committee recommendations go far beyond Carter

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — The special parliamentary committee on physician-assisted dying has recommended euthanasia for the mentally ill and opened the way for euthanasia of consenting minors.

Its report tabled in the House of Commons Feb. 25 goes far beyond the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, which restricted physician-assisted death to consenting, competent adults with “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” that causes intolerable suffering.

The committee report recommends allowing physician-assisted death for those with psychiatric conditions; it opens the way for children under 18 to be euthanized; it allows for advanced directives so non-competent persons can be euthanized provided they made the directive when competent; and recommends forcing physicians to make an effective referral. It also recommends all health facilities that receive public funding provide physician-assisted death.

It does not recommend any further defining of the Carter decision’s words “grievous and irremediable.” It recommends minimum safeguards of two independent physicians determining the patient qualifies for a physician-assisted death. It also recommends requests for euthanasia must be made in writing, supported by two independent witnesses.

The report does recommend Health Canada establish a Secretariat on Palliative and End-of-Life care toward the end of establishing a national palliative care strategy. It also recommends national strategies for mental illness and dementia.

House Leader Dominic Leblanc said a decision on whether to force MPs to support the legislation will be made after the bill is drafted. He told journalists the previous decision to whip the vote was changed after consultations with colleagues.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the report will be considered, along with the report of the external panel.

“It’s too early to say what is going to be in the legislation or what’s not going to be in the legislation,” said Wilson-Raybould.

Conservative MPs on the committee filed a dissenting report, arguing the recommendations go far beyond the limits prescribed by the Supreme Court.

“Unfortunately, the regime recommended in the committee’s main report falls far short of what is necessary to protect vulnerable Canadians and the Charter protection of conscience rights of health professionals,” the dissenting report says.

The dissenting report notes Quebec’s euthanasia law does not allow physician-assisted death for the mentally ill or those under 18. It also does not allow for advanced directives. The Quebec law does not demand referral to another physician who will carry out the euthanasia, but has physicians making the referral to an independent body that will find a physician.

The Carter decision broadened the criteria beyond what Quebec’s euthanasia bill allowed and the special committee report broadens them even further. Asked if Quebec might be forced to have its law changed to conform to a more expansive law, Wilson-Raybould said the government recognizes the work Quebec has done in crafting its legislation. She promised collaboration with the provinces and territories in crafting the legislation, which she hopes will be passed by the Supreme Court’s June 6 deadline. She said is it “too early to predict where we are moving on a federal framework.”

The NDP members of the committee said they were glad the report picked up their recommendations for a national palliative care strategy and the reinstatement of a national palliative care secretariat.

NDP MP Murray Rankin said he supported the recommendations on the mentally ill and on minors. He noted the recommendations call for preliminary legislation making only adults eligible, with three years of study before those under 18 might be added.

Rankin insisted good palliative care and physician-assisted death go together. “We think it’s essential that it be part of the response,” he said. Though he would not go so far as to say the NDP would not support a bill if there was not a robust commitment to improved palliative care, he did say the NDP would “govern ourselves accordingly.”

The committee was made up of 20 MPs and six senators. The Conservative senators supported the report.

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