'Bill C-14 if enacted is a bad law': Delay of assisted dying legislation could be best option

Photo: flickr/Charlotte90T

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One of the byproducts of the "Elbowgate" scandal beyond the media coverage was the delaying of essential votes on Bill C-14 -- the Liberal government's assisted dying legislation.

After hearing the Carter v. Canada case, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting Canadians from accessing assisted dying services was a denial of their charter rights. The Court gave the Canadian government until June 6 to legislate the practice.

The slowing of the vote means that as of June 6 assisted dying could be much like the abortion laws in Canada -- non-existent at the federal level. It would not be illegal for doctors to provide assisted dying services and the current frameworks, which exist in the provinces, will become the regulating bodies.

On Tuesday May 31 MPs voted 186 to 137 to send the bill to the Senate in hopes that it will be passed before the deadline on June 6. According to the CBC, many senators have indicated they are unhappy with the bill and would require further amendments, delaying the bill yet again.

Many progressive Canadians have long held the belief that Canadians to have the right to die if they so choose. Yet with advocacy groups now opposing this bill, we need to ask ourselves: would the delay of the legislation be better than it passing?

Recent polling shows that 77 per cent of Canadians favour assisted dying legislation -- but the current language in the Liberal bill is a bit more controversial. Despite the overwhelming number of Canadians who support legislating doctor assisted suicide this bill may actually be a step in the wrong direction for those who support the concept.

Though the Liberal bill does legalize assisted dying, Bill C-14 explicitly only allows it for those where natural death is "reasonably foreseeable."

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould stated clearly in the House that "At the same time that Bill C-14 permits access to the majority of those who would want it, it would not allow any and all Canadians to access it."

Critics of the bill are quick to point out that the Supreme Court was specific in the wording it used in its decision when the Court said "The person must be a competent adult, provide clear consent, have a 'grievous or irremediable medical condition', and be enduring 'intolerable' suffering."

The difference between the bill and the decision is in the details.

The Liberal bill will actually preclude a number of patients from accessing assisted dying if their condition does not lead to a natural death in the near future.

Take for example, those suffering from degenerative dementia like Huntington's, or Alzheimer's, who may wish to end their life before the full effects of the disease take hold. Another example would be if someone is suffering from a disease that causes them to lose control of their body but is not fatal.

Under Bill C-14 those individuals would be barred from accessing assisted dying. In fact, Kay Carter, from the original Supreme Court case, suffered from spinal stenosis, which meant she would herself likely be ineligible for assisted dying under this bill.

Joseph Arvay, the lawyer who argued the Carter V. Canada case at the Supreme Court, shares the same concerns with C-14. "My view is that no law is better than a bad law and Bill C-14 if enacted is a bad law," Arvay said in an email to rabble. He went on further to state that even if the Senate made amendments, the bill would continue to be fatally flawed.

Dying with Dignity Canada, a group that has been advocating for assisted dying legislation voiced its own concerns and called on the government to re-think the bill. The group is currently encouraging people to email the senators to voice their concerns with Bill C-14.

In fact, for some people the situation created by lack of legislation on June 6 may be a relief.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Union points out that right now every province and territory requires at least two doctors to confirm a patient's eligibility and voluntariness. They go on to point out that most require a waiting period and all require extensive documentation.

Simply put, there are already frameworks in place across Canada that are far more lenient than the Liberal bill.

Come June 6 there will either be the Liberal assisted dying legislation on the books or the decision will be left to individual doctors and existing frameworks. This debate matters because people are waiting. One B.C. doctor indicated that she already has people signed up for the services and awaiting the date.

In the end, the question for progressives is simple: beyond just getting assisted dying legislation, what kind of assisted dying legislation would you like to see? If you believe that no one deemed to have provided clear and conscious consent should have to live in insufferable pain and that the choosing when you can end your own life is a right not a privilege, then you're likely opposed to C-14.

If that's the case, then you may be happy to see that this legislation is likely to not be passed by June 6.


Ryan Donnelly is a graduate of McMaster's Public Policy program and has been an organizer in various human rights groups in Ontario where he currently resides.

Photo: flickr/Charlotte90T


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