The Canadian Parliament has started debating legislation legalizing what they are calling “Doctor Assisted Dying” – which to me is a euphemism for euthanasia. I have touched on the subject before, the first time a year ago, and it is safe to say I am not enthused about the prospect.
Neither are many Parliamentarians. The subject is before the House of Commons because the Supreme Court has said the current laws prohibiting assisted suicide are unconstitutional, and Parliament was given a deadline to deal with it. I think it’s all a bit hasty, that the topic deserves more discussion than is being allowed – but I wasn’t asked my opinion.
The first part of the debate was this week, and I listened to a fair amount of the arguments pro and con. I sensed a certain amount of frustration on the part of MPs who were limited by the time constraints of the debate. Each MP who wished to speak was given 10 minutes to present their case. Even at that, some did not get the opportunity to speak as the government ended debate early to get the Bill to the Committee stage faster. (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. They weren’t trying to be undemocratic, they are looking at a June 6 deadline.)
I could easily spend the next month sharing excerpts from the debate, but unless you are really interested you might find that a bit excessive. (If you are interested you can read the transcripts yourself at www.parl.gc.ca.) But today and tomorrow I do want to share the words of one Conservative MP, Ziad Aboultaif, just to give you a flavor of the debate. This is what he had to say on the evening of Tuesday May 3:
Mr. Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it might be safe to say that this is the most important issue that will be debated in this 42nd Parliament. We are proposing a change in how we provide end-of-life care for Canadians, but it goes beyond that.
If the bill passes, we will give new authority to agents of state to take someone’s life away. That is a sobering responsibility, one that I hope none of us is taking lightly. What is proposed is a fundamental shift in Canadian society and how we see ourselves as humans. After only a few hours of debate, we will be asked to change the viewpoint of centuries. We will be asking doctors, who have sworn an oath to not play God, to instead do just that and be the agents of death for some patients.
We are doing this without consultation, without asking doctors, nurses, and pharmacists if they want that responsibility. This is not what they were trained to do. This may not be what they want to do, but Parliament is planning on telling them to do it.
The haste with which we are being asked to overturn centuries of thought and practice is unseemly. I understand the Supreme Court, in setting this deadline, is only doing what it perceives as being proper. I am sure the justices of the courts are well-meaning men and women, generally concerned with the plight of those who are terminally ill, in pain, and who wish to end their lives but are physically unable to do so.
I am sure that I am not alone in receiving calls, letters, emails, and submissions from people opposed to this legislation. Many have come from those who take a religious approach to this issue. From what I can see, people of faith, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, are united in their belief in the sacredness of life, and feel that in endorsing so-called assisted dying, the state is intruding into areas that should be beyond its jurisdiction.
It seems to me that we, as a nation, should be having a full and lengthy debate on how we approach life and quality of life, a debate perhaps done under more objective circumstances than when a loved one is suffering from an incurable illness. We are being asked to make profoundly disturbing choices and ordered to do it now. It does not take much talent to predict that in the aftermath of this legislation there will be confusion.
However, if killing patients becomes an option, for whatever supposedly good reason, how long will it be before that reason becomes more flexible than rigid? What about those with no family who are a drain on hospital resources? Would it not be in the financial best interests of society to end their lives?
How are we going to prevent families from pressuring their aged ones, urging them to request death so that the next generation of the family will be financially better off? There are so many issues that are still unresolved. We are acting in haste, and it seems to be almost guaranteed that we will get it wrong.
(Part 2 tomorrow)