In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:
- Audrey Parker euthanasia
- Conscience rights legislation
- U.N. General Comment on the right to life
Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.
AUDREY PARKER EUTHANASIA
- Last week, assisted suicide made both national and international headlines. Audrey Parker died at her home in Halifax on November 1. Ms. Parker objected to the requirement in the Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (AS/E) law that requires the person to be capable of giving consent when death is administered; and she spent her final weeks campaigning for the use of advance directives for AS/E. Although Ms. Parker would have liked “to make it to Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” she feared that the progression of her terminal illness would have made her unable to consent to a lethal injection at that time.
- The Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, noted that the federal government was “not considering” a change in the legislation in response to Ms. Parker’s request. However, the Council of Canadian Academies is set to make recommendations on this issue in their report to be released next month.
- There are two major issues at play.
- First: did Parliament’s declaration that suicide was no longer a criminal offense (as of 1972), create a “right” to commit suicide? In the 1993 Rodriguez v. British Columbia decision, the Supreme Court said that “Parliament’s repeal of the offence of attempted suicide from the Criminal Code was not a recognition that suicide was to be accepted within Canadian society. Rather … that the criminal law was an ineffectual and inappropriate tool for dealing with suicide attempts.” Even in the Carter case, the SCC’s endorsement of “the narrow goal of preventing vulnerable persons from being induced to commit suicide at a time of weakness,” signals that the court does not see a “right” to commit suicide.
- Second, removing the requirement to consent to euthanasia when it is administered could cut lives short unnecessarily. We’ve already seen people make requests in advance, who then change their minds when they arrive at the moment of truth, especially after they’ve had time to adjust to an acquired condition. Think of the Dutch woman who was sedated but struggled against those who held her down for the lethal injection, or the story of Margot Bentley in British Columbia.
CONSCIENCE RIGHTS LEGISLATION
- On October 30, Alberta MP David Anderson introduced Bill C-418, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act, in an effort to protect medical practitioners who refuse to participate in or refer for AS/E. The preamble recognizes the rights of health care professionals to act in accordance with their conscience, and calls forced referral a violation of that right. Yet the two new offenses created by the bill don’t really address that problem.
- The first offense is described as “compelling a medical practitioner… [to take part in medical assistance in dying using] violence or threats of violence, coercion or any other form of intimidation.” The phrase “any other form of intimidation” must cover the wide range of common and subtle pressure tactics medical staff face; such as being excluded from training opportunities or being “frozen out” of professional groups or relationships. A doctor is more likely to be denied a promotion than face physical violence.
- The bill also prohibits “any person” from firing or refusing to employ a medical practitioner “for the reason only that such a practitioner refuses to take part” in AS/E. However, this section won’t protect people from negative performance reviews, demotions, reassignments or other adverse employment actions.
- As with other types of discrimination, employers don’t usually declare their illegal motivations, they simply make up some other excuse for the negative job action.
U.N. GENERAL COMMENT ON THE RIGHT TO LIFE
- Finally, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released the final version of general comment 36 on the right to life. (You may remember the comments we submitted last year in response to paragraph 10 of the draft proposal which related to AS/E.) The Committee didn’t accept our recommendations, and very few changes were made to the final version.
- On the positive side, the final version still stresses the need “to prevent suicides, especially among individuals in particularly vulnerable situations, including individuals deprived of their liberty.” It’s not clear whether “individuals deprived of their liberty” refers to people living in nursing homes or psychiatric facilities, to prisoners, or to all three.
- In the draft version, the general comment, the authors had not decided between whether states parties “may allow” or “should not prevent” AS/E. In the final version, the comment refers to “States parties that allow …” On the one hand, the Human Rights Committee avoids taking a position on “allowing” or “not preventing” AS/E. On the other hand, the Committee accepts AS/E as a “done deal.”
- Once again, the general comment did not mention the effects of discrimination and obstacles that limit disabled people’s life choices and make assisted suicide seem attractive. The final version:
- continued to use the pro-euthanasia catch phrases “pain and suffering” and “die with dignity.”
- still contains ableist language; those who seek AS/E are referred to as “afflicted adults,” and
- “mental pain and suffering” is enough to qualify for AS/E.
- All three of these stories demonstrate the importance of a disability rights opposition to euthanasia, and show the problems that are created when disabled voices are left out of the conversation! The disability community must continue to speak out:
- Against creating a “right” to commit suicide;
- To prevent the expansion of AS/E eligibility by advance directives;
- For the rights of medical professionals to practice life-saving (as opposed to life-ending) medicine; and
- recognizing that AS/E are a threat to the right to life of disabled people around the world.