In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:
- 2016 Year in Review
Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.
2016 YEAR IN REVIEW
- In January of 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada granted a four-month extension on the effective date of the Carter judgment. Thus, the court extended the deadline for the government of Canada to pass a law regulating assisted suicide. In the meantime, competent adults with an “irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is persistent and intolerable” who wished to end their lives after February 6 could do so with the permission of a court.
- Also in January, the federal and provincial expert panels’ reports were released. The provincial expert panel offered a very liberal reading of the Carter case, recommending euthanasia for people with dementia and “mature minors” while the federal expert panel was much more restrained, concentrating on safeguards to prevent “vulnerable persons” from being induced to commit suicide in a time of weakness.
- Finally, the movement lost an great advocate on Jarnuary 14. Kevin Fitzpatrick, founder of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International, and Hope Ireland, as well as a member of NDY UK, died of cancer. He was an articulate spokesperson against assisted suicide and a vigorous campaigner for disability rights in general.
- In February, after only five weeks of work, the report and recommendations of the special joint parliamentary committee on Physician Aid in Dying were published on the 26th. The committee recommended a very broad and inclusive law, allowing non-terminal disabled people, minors, people with dementia and those whose suffering is purely psychological to have assisted dying. The recommendations also feature a loose (not necessarily written) application process with few safeguards and no guarantee of access to communications.
- In March, a coalition of more than 50 individuals and organizations presented the Vulnerable Persons Standard; a series of recommendations designed to address the need for safeguards in the federal assisted dying bill. The Standard seeks to :
- create equal protection for vulnerable persons;
- limit access to assisted dying to those with an end-of-life condition;
- ensure that each person is competent and makes voluntary and informed consent;
- guarantee that each person receives an assessment for vulnerability and suffering; and
- ensure that authorization of assisted dying be done by a judge.
- In April, Bill C-14 was introduced in Parliament. The bill provided that a competent adult with a grievous and irremediable medical condition could make a written request for assisted dying and, with the approval of two doctors or nurse practitioners, could receive assisted suicide or euthanasia. The definition of “grievous and irremediable medical condition” requires that the person must be suffering intolerably, be in an advanced state of irreversible decline, and that their death be reasonably foreseeable. The bill proposed further study of the issue of allowing assisted dying for persons under 18 years of age, people whose suffering is purely psychological, and via advance directive for people who may become incompetent.
- Later in April, advocates on both sides of the issue filed more than 100 amendments to bill C-14. TVNDY’s amendments were primarily concerned with closing loopholes that allow “anyone” to do “anything” to assist with euthanasia or assisted suicide without repercussions, and protecting vulnerable persons from inducement to commit suicide in a time of weakness.
- May saw Bill C-14 progress through the House of Commons and the Senate simultaneously. Advocates, including representatives from TVNDY, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, testified before committees in support of amendments that would toughen safeguards and tighten restrictions on who would be eligible for medical aid in dying.
- Early June saw Bill C-14 approved by the House of Commons, but the Senate version did not have the requirement that the person’s death be reasonably foreseeable. Meanwhile the four-month extension expired, and assisted suicide, with few limits and regulations that varied from province to province, became a legal exception to a charge of homicide throughout Canada.
- On June 17 the house and senate finally adopted identical versions of bill C-14, including the death is “reasonably foreseeable” clause. Ten days later, the first lawsuit challenging this restriction was filed in British Columbia by a woman with spinal muscular atrophy, Type II.
- Meanwhile, disability rights activists in the U.S. and the U.K. protested the summer blockbuster film “Me Before You.” The film depicted a quadriplegic who, despite finding love and having economic resources, decides to go to Switzerland to be euthanized. Activists, objecting to the “better dead than disabled” message of the film, handed out leaflets at showings of the film, and drew extensive press coverage of their protest campaign.
- In July we learned of the murder of 19 disabled people in a care home in Sagamihara, Japan. A former employee of the facility entered in the early hours of the morning and stabbed 41 people in their beds, 19 people died and 26 were wounded. The perpetrator later turned himself in to authorities saying “It is better that disabled people should disappear.” Though it was the largest mass killing in Japan since World War II, the event drew only a muted response. Families did not want to be identified, and there was no public outcry or mourning for the murdered people.
- During August, “Project Value” released 15 videos of disabled people offering another perspective on life with a disability. The project’s introduction states: “As we enter a complex discussion in Canada about doctor-assisted suicide, we worry that Canadians are only getting one side of the disability story – that death is a natural choice for these poor suffering disabled people. But this story doesn’t speak to the experiences of many with disabilities. This project seeks to explore a different perspective; to share stories and experiences that contradict the narrative that disability is a fate worse than death. This is about projecting our value.” To view the videos, go to https://www.facebook.com/projectmyvalue/.
- In September, the CBC reported that there had been at least 120 cases of assisted dying in Canada between June 17 and the end of August, not counting the 166 cases of euthanasia documented in Québec’s six-month report, or those who died between February 6 and the passage of bill C-14 in June. The CBC report found:
- Ontario’s coroner recorded 49 cases of medically assisted death.
- British Columbia reported 46.
- Alberta’s provincial health authority said there were 15 cases.
- Manitoba had eight recorded cases.
- The Yukon, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia all declined to provide a precise number, citing privacy concerns.
- Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador all said they had no reported deaths during that two-month period.
- Saskatchewan said there were fewer than five cases.
- Also in September, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition released its hour-long documentary “The Euthanasia Deception.” The film shows the wide gap between the claims of euthanasia supporters that safeguards are strictly adhered to, and the reality of euthanasia in practice. For more information and to purchase a copy, go to http://www.vulnerablefilm.com/
- Finally in September, the federal government under minister for sport and persons with disabilities Carla Qualtrough, began a consultation process aimed at creating a federal statute to strengthen and harmonize accessibility laws across Canada.
- In October, Québec’s Commission on End-of-life care issued a nine-month report on the province’s euthanasia program that came into effect on December 10, 2015. As of August 31, 262 euthanasia have been reported by doctors in Québec, and 263 terminal palliative sedations were reported by institutions as of June 30. Of the 262 euthanasia, 148 cases had been ruled on by the Commission on end of life care; of those, 21 were found to have irregularities. Three people, or 2% of the 148, were ineligible for euthanasia, while in 18 other cases, the second doctor was not independent of the first. Health Minister Gaetan Barrette indicated that the requirement that the second physician be independent might be re-examined.
- In November, the U.S. State of Colorado and the District of Columbia both adopted assisted suicide; Colorado by ballot initiative, and the District by vote of the city council. This brings the total of jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal in the U.S. to six.
- Finally in December, the government of Canada announced that it has begun a consultation process on Canada’s accession to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The optional protocol allows individuals and groups to bring complaints for violation of the CRPD before a UN committee charged with enforcing the CRPD, and allows that Committee to investigate complaints against governments. Activists have been pushing for adoption of the Optional Protocol since Canada ratified the CRPD in 2010, but this is the first time the government has shown any willingness to do so.
ANNOUNCEMENT: WINTER BREAK
- Our webcast is taking a winter break and will be back on Friday, January 20th. Join us then for more news and information about assisted suicide and euthanasia as it affects people with disabilities.