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 I do want to share the words of one Conservative MP, Ziad Aboultaif, just to give you a flavor of the debate. This is the second part of what he had to say on the evening of Tuesday May 3:
Mr. Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning, CPC):
This brings me to this hastily drafted piece of legislation that we are considering tonight. Apparently the government has decided that the idea of assisted suicide is not itself worthy of debate. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that despite the objections of people of faith and many other Canadians, medically assisted dying is a done deal. Laying aside any debate on the merits or lack thereof on the concept of assisted dying, we need to examine this bill and deal with its flaws.
I am extremely concerned about the safeguards, or perhaps I should say the lack of safeguards, that this legislation provides for those who, in good conscience, do not wish to take part in aiding someone’s death. Simply put, the bill does not go far enough in protecting those people.
What happens when a physician, in good conscience, declines to end someone’s life? We do not know. We are told that there will be protection of conscience rights, but that is not spelled out in the legislation. Apparently, that will be left for the provinces to figure out, or for someone else to make the rules, and who, we are not told.
If I were a physician, I would be feeling very uneasy right now. The legislation spells out how doctors would not be subject to prosecution for ending someone’s life if they requested aid in dying. What would happen to health care professionals who decline to end a life? What penalties would the state impose on them if they wish to abide by their conscience, or would the state not allow them to follow the dictates of conscience and insist they become killers?
Supporters of the legislation, I am sure, will tell us that, of course, no one would be forced to perform actions they consider to be unethical. If so, where is that in the legislation? Health care professionals cannot be faulted for being uneasy when they are told, “Trust us”.
We might not be discussing this issue if we were doing a better job as a nation in assisting those approaching the end of their natural life. Where is the commitment of the government to increase funding for palliative care, which was an election promise unfulfilled in budget 2016?
Three billion dollars was promised for long-term and palliative care, but nothing was delivered. Should we not, as a nation, be considering how to improve the quality of life for those facing serious illness, or is it just cheaper to encourage them to end their own lives to save money for the health care system? Access to proper palliative care would be an essential part of end-of-life decision-making and, in many cases, would encourage people not to take their own lives.
When we are talking about conscience in these matters, the concept goes beyond the rights of individuals. It also strikes deep at the nature of our health care system. Has the government given any consideration to the fact that many of the hospitals in our country were founded by religious organizations and are still run by them, groups whose members would not look favourably on the idea of being ordered by government to assist in providing services to which they are philosophically opposed? Is that something, again, to be left for the provinces to work out?
Is it the government’s intention to require hospitals run by Roman Catholics or the Salvation Army to administer procedures that run counter to their deeply held beliefs? What right is more important, and how does the government choose? What sort of coercion would be applied to force individuals and organizations to abandon deeply held beliefs?
The legislation before us is deeply flawed. It should not be supported unless it is greatly improved, especially in providing protection for freedom of conscience for both individuals and institutions in the health care system.