Debate on assisted suicide lost in legal limbo during election campaign
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, September 11, 2015 10:00PM EDT
A controversial new chapter in Canadian history is set to begin later this year, when the province of Quebec begins granting people who are terminally ill the right to ask a doctor to help them die.
Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down the ban on doctor-assisted suicide, the rest of Canada is expected to follow suit in early 2016.
In handing down the ruling on Feb. 15, 2015, the courts gave Canadian lawmakers a year to draft new laws that recognize the right of consenting adults in physical or mental pain, to seek help from the medical community to end their lives. Currently federal and provincial panels are holding discussions on how to help frame the new legislation.
It may be one of the first big legislative challenges that a newly elected government will face, but the issue of doctor-assisted suicide is absent on the campaign trail.
Currently, it is unclear how to proceed without government guidance. New laws are not expected before Feb. 7, 2016.
Being in legislative limbo is proving frustrating for many people across the country, including Donna DeLorme. The former accountant has advanced multiple sclerosis, and needs help to do nearly everything. She has already attempted suicide with a failed overdose.
When the Supreme Court ruling came down last February, DeLorme says she celebrated, thinking that her wait would soon be over.
But eight months later, she is now losing hope.
None of the major federal political parties have committed to meeting the Supreme Court-imposed deadline, leaving doctors and patients like DeLorme in limbo.
“I don’t know if I have to wait and suffer,” DeLorme told CTV News.
Those who advocate for assisted death say they get calls daily from others in similar situations.
Nino Sekopet, a manager with the advocacy group Dying with Dignity, says some feel “relieved” to know that things may change in February.
“But then there are people who cannot wait until that date, and I would say that having that date, but not having it within reach for them, makes them even more frustrated,” said Sekopet, who is also a psychotherapist.
Quebec is the only province with a plan for its doctor-assisted suicide program, which begins in December.
The rest of the provinces, as well as Ottawa, are holding discussions on what to do, with nothing scheduled to become public until after the Oct. 19 federal election.
Opponents of assisted suicide say the matter is “too important” to have it become politicized.
“The decision to say that human life may be killed … that is such a huge, seismic shift in our value system and we haven’t given it enough attention,” Jakki Jeffs, executive director of Alliance for Life, told CTV News. “And I think it is a real shame that it came within an election year.”
In the meantime, some patients like DeLorme are unwilling to endure the uncertainty of both illness and political inaction. Currently, the only legal option for DeLorme within Canada’s healthcare system is to stop taking food and liquids.
With a report by CTV News Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip