Introduction

Webcast archive: Duelling expert panels

Today, we look at the new panel commissioned by the government in response to Carter.

Webcast archive: Duelling expert panels

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Duelling expert panels
  • Proposed regulations for Québec’s euthanasia law

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

DUELLING EXPERT PANELS

  • On July 17, the federal government named an expert panel to examine options for a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada.
  • The panel includes:
    • Harvey Chochinov, Distinguished professor of psychiatry and palliative care at the University of Manitoba;
    • Catherine Frazee, professor emeritus in Disability Studies at Ryerson University; and
    • Benoit Pelletier, professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
  • The panel will conduct a consultation with medical experts and interveners in the Carter case to gather opinions and perspectives on the issues raised by the decision to help the government develop a legislative response to the Court’s decision.
  • The panel will discuss four topics:
    • Different forms of physician-assisted dying (assisted suicide and/or euthanasia);
    • Eligibility criteria and definition of key terms;
    • Risks to individuals and society associated with physician-assisted dying; and
    • Safeguards to address risks and procedures for assessing requests for assistance in dying and the protection of physicians’ freedom of conscience.
  • However with the announcement of the federal election, the panel suspended it’s activity as of August 4 until after the October 19 election.
  • Then on August 14, the Province of Ontario launched a similar committee representing the provinces and territories (except Québec) with the same mandate as the federal panel.
  • Unfortunately several member of the provincial panel are activists for assisted suicide, including:
    • Jennifer Gibson (Co-Chair) – Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics
    • Maureen Taylor (Co-Chair) – Physician Assistant in Infectious Diseases and Medical Journalist
    • Jocelyn Downie – Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University
    • Arthur Schafer – Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba
  • The panel does not include anyone with expertise in palliative care or disability rights.
  • The only panel member who has said she opposes assisted suicide is Dr. Nuala Kenny. Unfortunately her status as a Catholic nun will probably reduce her credibility on a committee and in a society that prefers non-religious values.
  • The Provincial panel was surely created to try to supplant the federal panel. It will continue its consultation from now until the election, and submit a report to parliament before the Carter ruling comes into effect on February 6, 2016.
  • If parliament hasn’t received any input when it comes back after the October election, it’s possible that the Supreme Court could grant an extension to draft legislation. But if the Provincial panel has provided recommendations, the Supreme Court is less likely to push back the deadline.
  • Though the federal panel is not holding meetings, people can still submit testimony and comments via their web site. Visit http://www.ep-ce.ca/en/home and select the “consultation” menu item.
  • The provincial panel has a survey form to fill out at https://www.ontario.ca/page/doctor-assisted-dying-and-end-life-decisions-consultation

PROPOSED REGULATIONS TO IMPLEMENT QUÉBEC’S EUTHANASIA LAW

  • As you probably already know, the Law Concerning End-of-life Care was adopted in Québec on June 4, 2014, and will come into effect in December of this year.
  • The law will allow people to choose medical aid in dying – euthanasia – among the options for “care” at the end of life.
  • The Government of Québec published its first set of regulations to implement the euthanasia program on July 15.
  • These regulations relate to the information doctors have to provide to the oversight commission, and the activities of the commission itself.
  • If you think of a law as stating what must be done, then the regulations state how it should be done.
  • Unfortunately these regulations don’t give enough detail, they cause confusing, and they don’t fill in the gaps that exist in the law itself.
  • The overall impression of the law and regulations is a program that is badly designed, with problems and legal loopholes that won’t protect vulnerable people.
  • The regulations require doctors to provide information about screening and evaluations for eligibility, but there’s no explanation of how these evaluations will be done nor the eligibility determined. For example:
    • Is the person capable of giving “free and informed” consent?
    • Is the request for medical aid in dying the result of external pressure?
  • The regulations don’t explain how a doctor would make a referral if s/he doesn’t want to kill a person, nor what to do if the person isn’t eligible for euthanasia.
  • There is still no explanation of how euthanasia is to be carried out.
  • The “safeguard” of oversight by the Commission is retroactive. That doesn’t help the person who is already dead.
  • The doctor has to report “the reasons why the suffering cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable” but doesn’t have to say what services or treatments (if any) were provided to alleviate suffering.
  • The Commission has no responsibility to verify that medical killing and euthanasia are not happening aside from those counted in the doctors’ reports.
  • Watch our Facebook page for a report detailing the problems with the regulations, as well as the address to send your comments.