Euthanasia Ups and Downs: Has the Slippery Slope Become a Roller Coaster?
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Over the past few months, there has been a flurry of activity with regard to Canada’s euthanasia laws. You’ve heard from ARPA Canada about Bill C-39, Bill C-314, Bill S-248, committee hearings, and expert panels, all focused on the issue of euthanasia, not to mention the multiple components of euthanasia being debated, whether it’s safeguards, disability, mental illness, or mature minors. Christians involved in this issue have seen cause for both encouragement and discouragement just this month, and many times throughout the past year or two. If you find yourself getting confused about where things are at, you’re not alone. Let’s put it all in one place for a minute and take stock.
Bills Expanding Euthanasia in Canada
Looking back to March 2021, the government passed Bill C-7. Through this bill, they removed the requirement that death must be reasonably foreseeable in order for a person to access euthanasia. That meant that Canadians with various disabilities could access euthanasia, even if their disability would not naturally end their life in the foreseeable future. In addition, Bill C-7 set a date of March 17, 2023, when euthanasia for those with mental illness would be legalized.
Over the past two years, Canadians have increasingly expressed their fears about the implications of offering suicide to those with mental illness. Multiple news stories showed the slippery slope of euthanasia becoming a reality, where Canadians were being offered euthanasia against their will, and those with mental illness were being encouraged to end their lives. Many psychologists and psychiatrists recognized that there is no way to distinguish a request for euthanasia from suicidal thoughts, and stated fears that providing access to euthanasia would devalue the lives of those with mental illness and make them lose hope.
Currently, Bill S-248 is being debated in the Senate, but it has not yet passed 2nd reading. This bill would allow Canadians to make advance requests for euthanasia – meaning that a person could decide now that they want to be euthanized at some later date when they cannot give consent. These types of requests are rightly prohibited for most medical treatment decisions because a person cannot know what their condition will be like in the future, or how they will feel about that condition if it happens.
Quebec has also introduced a provincial bill, Bill 11, that seeks to allow advanced requests in their province. Unlike the federal Bill S-248 which was introduced by a private member in the Senate and thus has a relatively low chance of passing, Bill 11 was introduced by the government (specifically by the minister responsible for seniors) and thus has a high likelihood of becoming the law of the land in Quebec.
Bills Slowing the Expansion of Euthanasia
At the end of 2021, a report by a committee of the Quebec legislature recommended against euthanasia for mental illness. A 2022 Expert Panel report on euthanasia for mental illness noted significant risks but ultimately suggested that no new safeguards needed to be added to existing legislation. The government is aware of concerns about euthanasia for mental illness, and they have backed off slightly, recently introducing Bill C-39, which will delay the expansion of euthanasia for mental illness until March 17, 2024. Unfortunately, the government’s reasoning is not due to concerns that this expansion is inappropriate. Instead, they stated that they are committed to making the expansion happen and are simply ensuring that the proper safeguards are in place. Meanwhile, many medical professionals claim that there is no such thing as proper safeguards that would protect vulnerable Canadians with mental illnesses.
Shortly after Bill C-39 was introduced, Member of Parliament Ed Fast introduced Bill C-314, which would entirely cancel the expansion of MAiD for those with mental illness. This is a huge step in the right direction and a signal that there is a willingness to stop the expansion of euthanasia. The debate on euthanasia and mental illness in the House of Commons reveals the support of many of MP Fast’s colleagues. NDP MP Charlie Angus also recently wrote on Twitter, “I will not vote to support extending the medical death program to those suffering mental illness, to those who are depressed or to children. Not on my watch.” While the Bill will need a majority of MPs to vote in favour, MPs from all parties seem to be increasingly concerned about expanding euthanasia for mental illness.
Committee Report on Euthanasia
Shortly after Bill C-314 was introduced, the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying released their final report after months of discussion and witness testimony. Ultimately, despite stating multiple worries that witnesses had about expansion, the majority of the committee recommended expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness (after the one-year delay), to minors, and to those who make advance requests. To ‘protect’ the vulnerable, the committee recommends a few safeguards as well as further consultation and a review process. However, the reviews would take place five years after euthanasia is already expanded, at a time when it is too late for those who have already had their lives ended through euthanasia. For further commentary on that report, you can read ARPA Canada’s statement and a recent op-ed.
The latest recommendations from the Joint Committee are troublesome and point to some appetite for the continued expansion of euthanasia in Canada. Yet once again, there was opposition, even on the Committee. A minority of the Committee wrote a dissenting report, recommending that the government refuse to expand euthanasia. They also address the need for improved palliative care and protection for people with disabilities. We are encouraged to see strong opposition in these areas from some members of the Committee.
There has been a lot of debate in the past couple of years on the issue of euthanasia in Canada. We’ve seen excellent pushback on euthanasia for those with mental illness and may yet see that reversed. There will likely be further developments throughout 2023, and we must continue to push back against further expansion. It’s been a rollercoaster, with ups and downs, but we are thankful for the efforts of so many Canadians who are encouraging the government to care for vulnerable Canadians, rather than end their lives. For more on what you can do, go to carenotkill.ca for current action items.