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Canada in the height of debate on the Right to Die

On November 14, 2011 the B.C Supreme Court case opened, in which Canada’s laws against assisted suicide are on trial. This “Carter versus Attorney General of Canada and Attorney General of British Columbia” involves evidence that exceeds 10,000 pages of submissions, including over 100 affidavits and experts. WF member Farewell Foundation, being one of the (many) interveners, has reported regularly on this site (thanks to ERGO’s Newslist).

Day 1 and day 2Day 3, 4 and day 5,  Day 6, 7 and day 8,  Day 9 and 10,  Day 11,  Day 12, 13 and 14,  Day 15,  Day 16, 17, 18 and 19,  Day 20.  Day 21 (final day)

It is not by accident that two important reports appeared on the eve of this trial. In the wake of the debate and later defeat (228 against 59) in April 2010 of Bill C-384, two separate groups started their research into different sides of the issue. Both arranged extensive submissions and hearings throughout Canada.

A group of 55 MP’s formed an all party Parliamentary Commitee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PCPCC). This ad hoc Parliamentary Committee convened in April 2010 to respond to what they saw as a “deeply felt concern” expressed by Canadians regarding the practice of palliative care in the country. The report, titled ”Not to be Forgotten: Care of Vulnerable Canadians” , calls for ‘quality end-of-life care for all Canadians’.

The report, crafted after 24 hearings and hundreds of testimonies, calls for an “integrated community care model” for a country that the authors say is largely failing to provide even adequate care to the vulnerable and the dying. The authors found that up to 84% of those requiring palliative care are not receiving it, and called for “adequate pain management” to be regarded as a “basic human right.”

The report recommends that the country switch from the current “disease or condition-specific care” to a more “person-centered care.” It emphasizes, for instance, that a person’s care be as close as possible to one’s own home and community. The report also brought to light challenges faced by the country’s current health system, where the sick and the suffering are often plugged into a “bureaucratic system” where they become anonymous victims lost in a “multiple siloed heath system.”

(comm RJ: this report has been received with great enthousiasm by opponents of changes in the law. As they say: as long as the palliative care is not optimal, every change into a direction of legalisation of euthanasia endangers further, much needed development of palliative care).

A second initiative was that of the Roayl Society of Canada, established an “expert panel on end-of-life decision making” assembled by  Jocelyn Downie. The Globe and Mail reports as follows:

The Royal Society of Canada has recommended changing the Criminal Code, which currently makes counselling, aiding or abetting someone to die a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The report argues that some form of assisted suicide be permitted – even for those who have not been diagnosed with a terminal illness, because patients may be suffering terribly and permanently. A national oversight body should be created to ensure that assisted suicide is framed narrowly and that safeguards are in place to prevent abuse. The body would report annually and publicly on assisted suicide to maintain public trust in the system and to make sure that all the required conditions are met. Physicians who object on moral or cultural grounds could refer patients to another doctor. 

The full RSC Report “End of Life Decision Making”.