Canadians divided on keeping doctor-assisted suicide ban, report finds
Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:17AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 10, 2014 6:03PM EDT
The Canadian public is divided on whether a ban on doctor-assisted suicide should be maintained, according to a new report by the Canadian Medical Association.
The report, released Tuesday, is based on a series of town hall meetings held across Canada earlier this year.
The report found that while Canadians are split over doctor-assisted suicide, there is a strong desire across the country for more palliative care to ensure a “good death,” which is as free from pain as possible and with as much dignity as possible.
A “good death” is considered to be one as free from pain and with as much dignity as possible, and involves doctors who specialize in providing end-of-life care.
If the law in Canada is changed to allow euthanasia or physician-assisted dying, the report strongly urges that strict protocols and safeguards are needed to protect vulnerable individuals.
"What we heard in spades was that the public is eager to learn more about end-of-life care and to use that knowledge to inform discussions and decisions with their loved ones about their own wishes," CMA President, Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti said in a statement.
Conservative MP Steven Fletcher believes that Canadian’s shouldn’t have to choose between having better palliative care and legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
Fletcher has been open about his desire to legalize assisted suicide, and has said that he will appeal directly to the Senate in order to see his private members bill on the issue pushed through to the House of Commons.
“I think a competent adult, who has lived most of their lives, should be able to say, because I am bed ridden, I need help to die,” he told CTV’s Power Play. “And most Canadians believe that.”
According to the CMA, less than 30 per cent of the Canadians who will die in 2014 will have access to palliative care. The organization is recommending the development of a national palliative care strategy.
The CMA town hall meetings found there was “universal agreement” about the need to discuss end-of-life care with family. However, the organization said only 30 per cent of Canadians have that conversation, and 16 per cent have taken certain actions regarding the type of end-of-life care they want.
Last week, Quebec became the first Canadian province to pass right-to-die legislation.
The bill stipulates that patients themselves would have to repeatedly ask a doctor to end their lives on the basis of unbearable physical or psychological suffering. They would also have to be deemed mentally sound at the time of the requests.
The federal government, however, has said it could challenge the legality of the legislation.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal under Canada's Criminal Code and Ottawa has insisted it has no intention of changing that.
Doctor-assisted suicide debate heading to Supreme Court
The issue of physician-assisted suicide is also heading to the Supreme Court of Canada.
B.C. Civil Liberties Association will argue before the Supreme Court in October that assisted suicide should be legal on behalf of the families of people who wanted to die with dignity.
"That is what all the parties are waiting for, for the Supreme Court to do the heavy lifting,” Fletcher said. “It is disappointing. It should be decided in Parliament instead of at the Supreme Court.”
The case stems from the deceased, high-profile plaintiff Gloria Taylor who made headlines in 2012 when the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the existing law banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional. The ruling was delayed for a year to allow the federal government to rewrite the statute.
Taylor, who was terminally ill with ALS, was granted an exemption that would have allowed her to seek an assisted death.
She didn't use the constitutional exemption, however, as she died of an infection in October 2012.
With files from The Canadian Press