REALity Volume XXXV Issue No. 4 April 2016

A dark cloud has descended on Canada. This cloud was not brought about by the consent of Canadians or Parliament.  Rather, the nine judges on the Supreme Court of Canada, representing no one but themselves, have brought death and destruction by way of its decision to support legalized assisted suicide.  The court’s decision has entirely changed the fabric of Canadian society, altering our health care system, the role of physicians, the conscience rights of faith based institutions and individuals, as well as the loss of dignity for and the protection of vulnerable human life.

On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court, ignoring both law and precedent, arbitrarily decided, based only on the limited facts of a single case (Carter vs. Canada) to impose assisted suicide on Canadians.  This was abuse of power by the court, because it was determining public policy, disregarding the decision of six previous Parliaments, which had solidly rejected such a policy.  The court’s judgment, unfortunately, was superficial, seemingly based more on current politically correct thought, rather than on considered reflection and in-depth analysis.  The court concluded that assisted suicide was justifiable, focussing on a patient’s autonomy, naively believing that a “carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards established by Parliament” could satisfactorily carry out this policy. 

The court provided no definitions. It stated only that there be “a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition”.  The scope of this was far from clear. 

The Supreme Court of Canada also made the blanket statement that “Nothing in this declaration would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.” This latter point was quickly proven wrong. The Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Ontario have declared that any physician who, for conscience or religious reasons, may not wish to participate in assisted suicide, must “refer” a patient to another physician to carry out this procedure.  This is contrary to the doctors’ Charter right of freedom of conscience and religion.  It is also a serious incursion into the professional standing of the physician.  The requirement to refer a patient for assisted suicide to which the physician objects, on the grounds of conscience and religion, compels the physician to violate his or her conscience by being forced to be a participant in the very act to which he or she objects in the first place.

The tragedy is that the Supreme Court of Canada has adopted an extreme liberal position on the sanctity of human life, leaving Parliament merely to fill in the details by June 6, 2016. If Parliament does not come up with any regulations or controls on this devastation of the sanctity of human life by that date, then there will be no controls whatever on killing people at random, supposedly for their own good.

Consequently, the Liberal government established a Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons to make regulations on this issue.

In just nine days, from January 18th to February 4th, this committee heard approximately 62 witnesses and received approximately 132 briefs.  It is significant that pro-life groups, such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), REAL Women of Canada (RWC), Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) and the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) were refused an opportunity to appear before the committee, although, all these groups did submit briefs to the committee.  On the other hand, the committee asked the pro-euthanasia organization, Dying With Dignity (DWD), to appear before it no less than three times.  Consequently, we knew ahead of time the mind-set of this 16 member, Liberal dominated committee.  There were only four known pro-life members on it.  

Parliamentary Committee Submits its Recommendations – February 25, 2016

The dark cloud of assisted suicide became even darker when the Parliamentary Committee tabled its recommendations in the House of Commons on February 25th, 2016. 

One wonders why the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying ever bothered meeting. It could have just declared that assisted suicide was open to everyone, anywhere, with no holds barred.   The committee cast its net as wide as possible to ensure that no one would be denied the opportunity to have his/her life promptly terminated on request.  The Committee recommended there be no waiting period, prior review, or approval process.

The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter vs Canada had stated that “a permissive regime [for assisted suicide] with properly designed and administered safeguards was capable of protecting vulnerable people from abuse and error”.  Clearly, the court underestimated the enthusiasm of this Liberal dominated committee for assisted suicide.  Further, the court insisted that Parliament “must weigh and balance the perspective of those who might be at risk in a permissive regime against that of those who seek assistance in dying”.  The committee failed to provide a scrap of any such balance.  Instead, the committee focused almost entirely on patients’ “personal autonomy”, by facilitating assisted suicide following a simple request.  The mentally ill and depressed, even though these illnesses are treatable, as well as “mature” children under 18 years of age (after a 3 year delay in implementing this provision), are all eligible for a quick death.  The court, however, explicitly stated that assisted suicide be made available for “competent adult persons”. The committee, on the other hand, stated that it would be “discriminatory” to refuse any vulnerable individuals the opportunity to have themselves killed. 

As noted, assisted suicide, according to this committee, may be granted even if the illness is not terminal. For example, they ignore that the turbulence of adolescence in an individual who has barely experienced life, would not place him in a good position to decide on the termination of his life. The difficulties weighing on vulnerable people in their consent to assisted suicide was airily dismissed by the committee on the grounds it “had faith in the expertise of Canadian health care professionals to develop and apply appropriate guidelines for such cases”.  This was even after they were made aware of the physicians in the Netherlands and Belgium who, without valid consent, carry out the termination of lives there.

The committee also recommended that physicians who have a conscientious or religious objection to assisted suicide be obliged to refer the patient for this procedure. This requires the physician to be complicit in the very act to which he objects.  All publicly funded institutions, including hospitals, hospices, long-term care facilities etc. regardless of religious beliefs, are obliged to provide this service.  Freedom of religion and conscience, provided under the Charter of Rights, seem to have been relegated to the back of the bus in this report. Perhaps, more accurately, they have been denied a seat on the bus entirely.

The committee also recommends that not just physicians, but also registered nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and “other health care practitioners who provide services relating to assisted suicide” be permitted to do so. Would this definition be extended to include individuals who serve meals to patients to sustain them in public institutions while they seek assisted suicide, or personal support workers, who provide “services” to a patient while preparing for assisted suicide?   Would this empower them to assist with the termination?

The “safeguards” provided by the committee are ludicrous. Two independent physicians are required to decide whether the patient meets the criteria.  This shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain.  Also, two individuals (without any conflict of interest) are to witness the signing of the consent forms “where possible”.  There is no requirement or mechanism to determine if consent was freely given or obtained under duress.  No matter.  Consent is consent, so just get on with it.

Dissenting Report on Assisted Suicide

The only sanity regarding the Parliamentary Committee’s Report was provided by the four Conservative MPs on the Committee, in their Dissenting Report. The dissenting members of the Committee were Michael Cooper (Co-Vice Chair of the Committee, St. Albert-Edmonton), Mark Warawa (Langley-Aldergrove), and Gerard Deltell (Louis-St-Laurent), as well as Harold Albrecht (Kitchener-Conestoga), who participated in a majority of the Committee meetings as an alternate member. 

In their dissent, these MPs pointed out that the Parliamentary Committee had not followed the directives set out by the Supreme Court in the Carter case.  As a result, the legal framework proposed by the committee fell far short of what is necessary to protect  both vulnerable Canadians, such as the mentally ill and minors, and the conscience rights of the health profession.  The importance of palliative care in the context of assisted suicide was ignored.

The Dissenting Report also stated that the government must take note of these glaring flaws contained in the committee’s main report when it introduces its legislative response to Carter.

What Happens With Regard to the Recommendations of the Committee

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has referred this report to the Liberal Cabinet for review. She admits, however, that this will take a little bit of time, although it must be rushed through Parliament, (both the House of Commons and the Senate) by the deadline of June 6, 2016.

It is unacceptable that this critical issue of life and death should be dealt with so quickly. In contrast, the province of Quebec, which is the only Canadian province to have adopted a law on the end of life care, developed its law over a period of six years under three different legislatures, in a non-partisan work-in-process.

The Vote on Assisted Suicide

The Liberal government had initially ordered a “whipped vote” on the assisted suicide legislation even before the committee’s report had been completed. This required all Liberal MPs to vote for the legislation on the false basis that a Charter right was supposedly at issue.  This is very debatable.  In fact, the issue deals with the conscience rights of MPs.  Even the Toronto “red” Star, in an editorial dated February 27, 2016 stated that “… caution, not compulsion should be the government’s watch-word …” on the vote.  Also, members of the Liberal Caucus itself raised concerns about a “whipped vote” on this contentious conscience issue.

Consequently, Liberal government House Leader, Dominic Leblanc, was forced to backtrack. Judging by the Liberal Party’s propensity for “whipped votes”, however, it is expected that Liberal Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (although, not necessarily the backbench MPs) will be forced to vote for this legislation, regardless of their conscience, This was the approach taken in 2005 by former Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin, on the critical issue of same-sex marriage which he forced through Parliament.

The question arising is, which of the recommendations of the Joint Committee will be selected to become law? If the Liberal government accepts all the recommendations of the Committee, Canada will then have the most extreme liberal assisted suicide legislation in the world.  Perhaps this is what the Liberal government believes is “leadership”.   Alternatively, perhaps it indicates an immature, thoughtless government, careless of its responsibilities towards the weak, the aged and the sick.