'Be afraid of Bill C-14': Right-to-die pioneer Kay Carter's family speaks out
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, June 6, 2016 1:43PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 6, 2016 2:57PM EDT
Those who successfully fought for a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling on medically assisted dying say the Senate must make changes to the “cynical, misinformed and unconstitutional” Bill C-14.
Price Carter, son of Kay Carter who travelled to Switzerland to end her life more than five years ago, says the Supreme Court affirmed the rights of Canadians who are suffering from unbearable and incurable diseases to take measures to end their lives.
“Be afraid of Bill C-14, Canada,” he said during a press conference in Vancouver on Monday.
He said the proposed bill “discriminates” based on age, mental state and health status and will trap people in their suffering.
At midnight Monday, Canada’s provisions in the Criminal Code prohibiting doctor-assisted suicide will expire following the Carter v. Canada Supreme Court ruling in February, 2015. The House of Commons has passed Bill C-14 to set regulations around doctor-assisted suicide, but that legislation has not yet been approved by the Senate.
At issue is the fact that Supreme Court ruled that people suffering from grievous, irremediable and intolerable medical conditions be able to seek medical intervention to end their life, and that health-care providers be exempt from criminal prohibitions on aiding a suicide.
The proposed bill sets out that patients will qualify only if they are terminally ill and if their death is foreseeable.
Grace Pastine, litigation director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which argued for medically assisted dying in the Carter v. Canada case, says patients with non-terminal but grievous and incurable diseases who want to die with a doctor’s care will have to launch a constitutional challenge if Bill C14 passes.
“This is a cynical, misinformed and unconstitutional piece of legislation” which condemns many patients to “lives of unbearable suffering and cruelty,” she said.
“This is not what the majority of Canadians want. It’s time for Canadians to make their voices known and for politicians to listen.”
Lee Carter, daughter of Kay Carter and one of the key plaintiffs in the Supreme Court challenge, said her own 89-year-old mother, who suffered from a painful and debilitating disease called spinal stenosis, wouldn’t qualify under the proposed bill because it’s not a terminal condition.
“Where did the Liberal government go so terribly wrong?” She challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to answer why he’s not listening to the Supreme Court, constitutional experts and the input of a joint committee that vetted the bill.
During question period in the House of Commons on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government consulted widely on Bill C-14 and made sure the bill struck a balance between providing for the rights and freedoms of everyone while protecting the most vulnerable.
“This government recognizes that this is a big step in the history of this country,” he said. “We are ensuring this big step… is done the right way.”
Each province’s medical regulators have enacted guidelines that mirror the Supreme Court decision and they should take precedence because health care is a provincial responsibility, said Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
He said the proposed bill ignores what the Supreme Court fundamentally decided: “That people trapped in unimaginable suffering have the right to escape.”
The government repeatedly argued before the courts that patients should be terminal and near death to qualify for assistance but they lost each time, he said.
He said it was a “complete and utter surprise” that the government excluded non-terminal patients from its legislation. “Our jaws dropped. We thought they can’t possibly mean that but it turns out they they do mean it.”
Earlier Monday, federal health minister Jane Philpott told a national health convention that the health-care community will be faced with the “daunting prospect” of being asked to aid in a suicide without having federal legislation behind them.
She said provincial guidelines are inconsistent in terms of the age required to qualify and the necessary number of witnesses to a patient’s request and there is a “patchy approach” to the protection of the most vulnerable.
"While I have faith in Canada's healthcare providers to carry out these responsibilities responsibly and ethically, I believe that regulatory guidance alone is insufficient, given the nature of what you will be asked to do.”
Philpott told reporters that the bill is constitutional.
"We firmly support the fact that this piece of legislation is compliant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada, that it responds in an appropriate and responsible way to the Carter decision and there has been no shortage of consultation with experts," she said.
But Dr. Cindy Forbes, president of the Canadian Medical Association, says doctors have been left in a “legal limbo.” Her group is advising members to get legal advice before proceeding in any assisted dying case.
She says there should be a consistent framework right across Canada.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s health minister Eric Hoskins says the province will establish a referral service to allow doctors unwilling to perform a medically assisted death to link their patients with doctors who are. He also said the necessary drugs for medically assisted deaths will be provided at no cost.
Murray Rankin, the NDP’s justice critic, says constitutional expert Peter Hogg’s Senate testimony Monday that the proposed bill violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a “game changer.”
“The government has a chance to get this right.”