Introduction

Webcast archive: The progress of Bill C-14

This week, we talk about the progress of Bill C-14 and depictions of assisted suicide in film.

Webcast archive: The progress of Bill C-14

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

  • The progress of Bill C-14
  • Assisted suicide in film

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

PROGRESS OF BILL C-14

  • Bill C-14 is being debated in the House of Commons and the Senate simultaneously.
  • Usually, legislation goes through three readings and committee hearings in the house of commons, then is brought before the Senate for its consideration.  However given the tight deadline for the assisted suicide bill, both houses of parliament are considering Bill C-14 at the same time.
  • Last week MPs in the house of commons voted 235 to 75 to send bill C-14 to committee following second reading.
  • The bill was heard before the House of Commons Justice and Human Rights committee, where Amy Hasbrouck testified in her capacity as vice chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
  • This week the Bill was heard before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, where Rhonda Wiebe, chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities’ Ending of Life Ethics Committee testified on behalf of the CCD.
  • According to news reports, more than 100 amendments have been proposed in the House of Commons to bill C-14.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported that “Conservative amendments that called for the addition of terminal illness, judicial oversight and psychological counselling for those suffering from mental illness who want to access the procedure were among those rejected by the [Justice] committee.”
  • On the other hand, amendments to allow for assisted suicide by advance directive and to remove the requirement that natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” were also rejected.
  • An amendment to allow for conscience rights and to ensure communication access were accepted by the Justice committee, according to news reports.
  • The Liberals are hoping the House of Commons will approve the bill by the end of next week, which will give the senate only a few days to act on the bill before the June 6 deadline.
  • If there is no law by the June 6 deadline, then the language of the Carter decision will be in effect, providing meagre limitations on or regulation of the practice of doctor-assisted death in Canada.
  • Supporters of assisted suicide are already saying the proposed law, by requiring that the person’s “natural death be reasonably foreseeable” goes beyond the Carter decision, and could be challenged on constitutional grounds.  Other scholars disagree, saying the Supreme Court’s decision gives parliament broad scope to regulate assisted suicide and euthanasia.

ASSISTED SUICIDE IN FILM

  • According to the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization, since 1980 there have been at about 20 feature films that have depicted suicides or assisted suicides by disabled or terminally ill people.  This doesn’t include made-for-TV movies, docudramas or documentaries that cover the same or similar subject, and it only includes films released in North America.
  • Next month will bring the latest of these films.  “Me Before You” scheduled for release in North America on June 3, concerns a man who, after becoming quadriplegic in a motorcycle accident, goes to Switzerland for an assisted suicide.
  • Disabled people have protested similar films as promoting death as an appropriate response to disability.  Films such as “Whose Life Is It Anyway” (1981), “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Sea Inside” (2004), and “Amour” (2012) promote assisted suicide as the tragic but logical outcome of becoming severely disabled.
  • Usually these stories do not question the conditions under which disabled people live.  For example, in Million Dollar Baby, there is no explanation as to why the main character ends up in a nursing home and loses a leg to untreated bed sores.  They are focused on the central plot device, the disabled person must die.
  • Because few non-disabled people encounter disabled people in their everyday lives, media depictions form the core of society’s image of disability.  When disabled people are shown committing suicide instead of wanting to live, it has an effect on how people see disabled people.
  • This leads to incidents like what happened to Tim Bowers.  In 2013, Bowers fell from a tree while hunting and was paralyzed.  He was woken from a coma while on life support and told he would never walk again or hold his infant son.  Then he was asked if he wanted to be kept on life support.  After the biased and pessimistic prognosis, in the shock of discovering he was disabled, and without time, help or encouragement to adjust to his disability, he elected to have life-support discontinued.
  • Activist John Kelly from Not Dead Yet in the United States is calling on disabled people to protest at the opening of the film to show that disability is not a fate worse than death, that suicide is not a noble and beautiful act, and that disabled people are not dead yet.