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Government tables Bill C-7 to expand assisted suicide

Yesterday, the federal government proposed legislative amendments to broaden eligibility for “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD). Bill C-7 proposes to further liberalize Canada’s current law and endangers the lives of vulnerable Canadians.

The bill is constructed around two vague categories – those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable, or not. The legislation gives discretion to medical practitioners to categorize a patient as one or the other. Currently, doctors are permitted to interpret this foreseeable death requirement loosely. Patients who might have had years to live, but had a condition that would likely eventually cause their death, have been euthanized under our current law.

Expanding “eligibility”

Bill C-7 would allow a new category of people to be killed, namely those who are not dying, whose natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable.” This would include people with disabilities or chronic but not fatal illnesses. Bill C-7 does propose to add more “safeguards” for this category of people (not dying) compared to the other category, for whom Bill C-7 makes it easier than it already is today to get assisted suicide, as explained below.

Informed consent?

Bill C-7 would require that, before killing a patient whose death is not reasonably foreseeable, medical practitioners must discuss all the care and support options available to their patient and be satisfied that the patient has given them careful consideration, but for those patients whose death is reasonably foreseeable, it merely requires informing them about care options. Given how flexible the “reasonably foreseeable” death criterion is, people with years to live may nevertheless be placed in this category and rushed along towards MAID.

Removing the reflection period for some patients

For those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” Bill C-7 would make it easier to end their lives by removing the current 10-day reflection period. Someone could request euthanasia and be killed the same day. Under Bill C-7, there is a new 90-day waiting period if your natural death is not foreseeable, but otherwise, there is no waiting period whatsoever.

Independent witnesses?

Bill C-7 would also relax the procedural safeguard of having two independent witnesses sign a patient’s written request for MAID, whether the patient’s death is foreseeable or not, cutting it down to one witness. The value of two witnesses, of course, is that if anything suspicious emerges about the circumstances of a patient’s MAID request, the account of two witnesses can be compared. Bill C-7 also lowers the bar for who qualifies as an independent witness. It allows people who are paid to provide health care or personal care, including someone who provides care to the person requesting MAID, to act as the sole witness. The danger here is that medical personnel or personal support workers who approve of and grow accustomed to MAID can be relied on routinely to act as a witness to MAID requests.

Advance request / waiver of final consent

Bill C-7 would also legalize advance requests for euthanasia for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable. It would allow a medical practitioner to sign a “written arrangement” with a patient to kill the patient on or before a specified date if the patient has lost mental capacity by or before that date. This “final consent waiver” arrangement, as it is called in the bill, would give a doctor a license to kill a patient without getting the patient’s consent immediately before killing him or her (hence “consent waiver”). There are next to no rules governing the formation or execution of such a “written arrangement”, not even a requirement for at least one witness. So, for example, a patient suffering from an aggressive cancer (natural death is reasonably foreseeable) may give their health care provider permission to euthanize him within a year from now. From then on, if at any time the patient has (in the doctor’s opinion) lost the mental capacity to give consent, the doctor may euthanize the patient without asking anyone.

Clarification regarding mental illness

Bill C-7 clarifies that mental illness alone does not qualify a person for MAiD. This was unclear under Bill C-14, though the foreseeable death criterion ruled out most mental health conditions as a basis for being eligible for MAID. Bill C-7 mentions in its preamble that Parliament is scheduled to review the question of permitting MAID for mental illness later this year, but we are thankful for Bill C-7’s clear statement that mental illness does not qualify. We expect pro-assisted-suicide-groups to urge the government to remove this provision from the bill.

Looking forward and taking action

Although we now know the content of the new proposed law, the content of the final law is still very much in question. The minority Liberal government introduced this legislation but will need the support of at least one other party to pass it. There is division within each party around how the issues this bill raises should be resolved. During the passage of the first assisted suicide legislation, several Liberal MPs voted against the legislation while most supported it. A few Conservative MPs supported Bill C-14, while most opposed it. Even after the House of Commons passed Bill C-14, the Senate proposed various amendments, some of which the House of Commons adopted and some of which the House rejected.

In short, this legislation on assisted suicide could change significantly in the next few months. Proposed amendments by other parties or the Senate could further remove safeguards and expand eligibility, or proposed amendments could strengthen safeguards and restrict eligibility.

Because of this volatile situation, it is imperative that you reach out to your MP to tell them that you oppose the removal of safeguards and the expansion of eligibility. This is especially important if you know or suspect that your MP is supportive of assisted suicide.

Another actionable item is to help spread the word of these troubling legislative changes through our Care not Killcampaign. Click here to order fliers to hand out to your neighbours, postcards to send to your MP, and posters to hang up around town.

Pray that God will restrain the hearts of men and that they may vote to care for our neighbours through palliative care and suicide prevention rather than vote to enable our neighbours to commit assisted suicide.

Stay tuned for more updates and details about this immensely important legislation.

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