Introduction

Webcast archive: The latest calls for assisted suicide in Canada

Today, we discuss the most recent calls for assisted suicide in Canada, as well as our testimony before the Parliamentary comittee studying the issue.

Webcast archive: The latest calls for assisted suicide in Canada

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

  • The latest calls for assisted suicide in Canada
  • TVNDY’s testimony to Parliament’s Special Joint Committee on Physician Aid in Dying

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

THE LATEST CALLS FOR ASSISTED SUICIDE IN CANADA

  • Two recent news stories have called attention to the kinds of assisted suicide cases that are likely to arise when the practice becomes legal. Neither of them concern people with terminal illness.
  • On January 21, the CBC reported on a Winnipeg man who is seeking assisted suicide because his medical conditions will likely cause him to need a wheelchair in the near future.
  • In response, Allen Mankewich, chair of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities said the situation points out society’s view that it’s better to be dead than disabled.
  • Then this week, the CBC reported on a Winnipeg woman with treatment-resistant depression who wants an assisted suicide.
  • Under the Supreme Court’s ruling extending the deadline for parliament to pass an assisted suicide law, these people could go before a judge for an exemption to the criminal prohibition, and get permission for an assisted suicide. There was no indication in the CBC reports if either person intended to do so.
  • It does not appear that either person has a disability that makes him or her unable to commit suicide without help.
  • If these people are simply looking for an easier way to commit suicide, and society gives it to them, what will that do to our efforts to prevent suicide?

TVNDY’S TESTIMONY TO PARLIAMENT’S SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON PHYSICIAN AID IN DYING

  • TVNDY submitted testimony to Parliament’s special Joint Committee on Physician Aid in Dying, despite not being invited to testify in person.
  • Our testimony offered extensive safeguards and very specific steps for determining eligibility and approving assisted suicide before the fact.
  • Our system would keep treating physicians out of the decision-making process. It also includes a case coordinator to guide the person through the application process so that “volunteers” from assisted suicide promotion groups will no longer have a place in encouraging the person to die.
  • We offered definitions to key terms that used objective standards in addition to subjective ones. Thus “intolerable suffering” not only means suffering that a person can’t tolerate, it also means “physical pain and psychological/existential distress that makes the person unable to perform activities of daily living.”
  • Only assisted suicide, not euthanasia, would be available.
  • Each person who wants assisted suicide would
    • be examined by two physicians,
    • have a psychosocial evaluation to screen out depression and demoralization, as well as abuse, coercion, financial pressure, and social pressure caused by lack of autonomy and control in the person’s life. This evaluation will also determine whether the person is vulnerable to inducement to commit suicide in a time of weakness.
    • A palliative care consultation.
    • Peer counselling by a person living with a similar disability or disease.
    • An “informed consent” worksheet summarizing information about the medical condition, alternatives to assisted suicide (rehabilitation, palliative care, home-based services), what to expect from assisted suicide, and the pros and cons of assisted suicide.
  • Unlike all other recommendations, TVNDY calls for the process to be fully accessible to disabled people, including communication access.
  • We stipulate a waiting period of one year following the onset of a permanent disability, and at least two weeks for a disease which is likely to cause death in less than six months.
  • The application and the assessments would be reviewed by an eligibility determination panel which would decide whether the person is a competent adult resident of the province who has a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.
  • If the panel determines that the person is eligible, the dossier is given to a judge who will decide:
    • Whether the person is vulnerable;
    • If the request is voluntary;
    • If the person has given informed consent;
    • If the person’s death will inflict undue suffering on (an)other person(s);
    • If allowing assisted suicide is likely to:
      • subvert the public policy of suicide prevention;
      • violate charter right to life or provisions against discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender or disability or other protected status;
      • send the message that the lives of people with disabilities have less value than those of non-disabled people;
    • The assisted suicide would be monitored by a specially-trained technician. The person would have the choice to swallow pills or a liquid, or to trigger an IV injection.  The technician would set up the IV and oversee the process, including administering an antidote if the person changed his/her mind.
    • The cause of death listed on the death certificate would be “assisted suicide.” Also, an autopsy would be performed in all cases of assisted suicide to verify the diagnosis, which would be added to the person’s dossier
    • An Assisted Suicide Commission would be created to:
      • Oversee all aspects of the program.
      • Collect, maintain and study data, and produce annual statistical reports.
      • Study and report on the progress, strengths and weaknesses of the program.
      • Conduct randomized studies to detect illegal ending of life practices.
    • We have no illusions that many, or any, of our recommendations will be adopted by the committee. However, we felt it was urgent to put these ideas before the group, to offer a balance to the meagre proposals of assisted suicide advocates.