Committee on doctor-assisted dying to confront thorniest issues
A special joint parliamentary committee is poised to make recommendations to the federal government on how to deal with some of the thorniest questions surrounding medically assisted dying.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 24, 2016 8:59PM EST
OTTAWA -- A special joint parliamentary committee is poised to make recommendations to the federal government on how to deal with some of the thorniest questions surrounding medically assisted dying.
The committee is to table its report Thursday, offering its recommendations for legislation which the Supreme Court has given the government until June 6 to produce after striking down the ban on physician-assisted dying last year.
The top court ruled that the ban violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights. It said any new law must recognize the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.
Committee co-chair Rob Oliphant refused Wednesday to divulge the contents of the report. But he said the committee has met difficult issues head on, offering advice on how the government should handle the age of consent, physicians who conscientiously object, advance directives and psychological suffering.
"Those would be the main issues that I would say had to be dealt with," the Toronto Liberal MP said in an interview.
"We have given a full set of recommendations on every issue that was a substantive issue that was raised by our witnesses. I think we have not equivocated."
The Canadian Press has learned the report is short, about 25 pages, and is entitled: Medical Assistance in Dying: a Patient-centred Approach.
The emphasis on the patient suggests the majority of MPs and senators on the 16-member committee has adopted the position that suffering Canadians should have relatively open access to doctor-assisted death.
However, at least one member, believed to be a Conservative MP, has written a dissent and another has filed a supplementary report.
The committee, which included both MPs and senators, heard from witnesses who advocated everything from invoking the constitutional notwithstanding clause to override the court ruling to those who wanted "absolutely no restrictions" on access to medically assisted dying, Oliphant said.
"The reality is there are people -- witnesses, as well as members of our committee -- who would tie this process up so tightly as to make null and void the Supreme Court decision, for all intents and purposes."
But he said the committee attempted to strike a balance, keeping its recommendations consistent with "the letter and the spirit" of the Supreme Court ruling and with the charter, while protecting vulnerable people. Indeed, he said the committee tried to "anticipate what could happen if someone challenged one of our recommendations in a court of law."
Among conceivable challenges, mature minors denied the right to choose medical assistance in dying could argue discrimination based on age. Canadians diagnosed with dementia or other degenerative illnesses could similarly argue their rights have been violated if they aren't allowed to spell out their wishes in advance, before their ability to give consent is impaired.
"You can't be charter-proof completely," Oliphant said, but the committee has "hugged very closely to the charter."
Oliphant said he thinks the report's recommendations reflect the view of most Canadians who, according to polls, believe "there should be medical assistance in dying available if someone asks for it."
"So that's where we're finding a way to honour that."