Physician Assisted Dying: Use Science and Secular Values – Not Dogma
February 25, 2016
The House of Commons’ Special Joint Committee on Physician Assisted Dying issued its report , making recommendations for the drafting of legislation to permit medically assisted dying. CFIC is gratified that the Committee adopted the positions taken by it and other humanist groups on many positions.
In its brief to the Committee, CFIC submitted that “…moral propositions based on instinct, intuition and/or religious belief cannot be allowed to give rise to restrictions that would sterilize the Charter right to assisted dying recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2015 decision in the Carter case which struck down the Criminal Code’s prohibition of assisting in a suicide. The Court also gave Parliament a deadline to enact legislation to exempt medically assisted dying from the Criminal Code, which expires this June. The tenor of the Committee’s report is consistent with CFIC’s secularist position.
In its report, The Committee specifically agreed with CFIC’s submission that limiting medically assisted dying to terminally ill individuals, “would not fully respect the Court’s decision and the value of individual autonomy that underpins it.” The Committee also accepted CFIC’s position that medically assisted dying should be available to individuals suffering from unbearable and irremediable psychological harm and that physicians who refuse to participate in medically assisted dying should nevertheless be obliged to refer patients seeking such assistance to those who are willing to help.
CFIC is pleased to note that the Committee cited BC Humanist Association’s submission in the report and we send our congratulations to BCHA and Dying With Dignity for actively speaking out for human rights in Canada.
February 1, 2016
After consulting 73 experts in five countries, as well as 92 representatives from 46 Canadian organizations, and after collecting over 300 document submissions from stakeholders and almost 15,000 responses online, the federal government of Canada has released an external panel’s report on appropriate legal options in response to Carter v. Canada, last year’s case on physician-assisted suicide.
On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that sections 241(b) and 14 of the Criminal Code—which make it illegal for anyone, including a physician, to assist in the death of another person—violate the constitutional rights of adults who suffer from grievous and irremediable illness. The decision decriminalized assisted suicide by physician-issued prescription and by voluntary euthanasia (when a physician administers life-ending medication).
Though a step in the right direction, the report merely discusses the varying responses the panel received, rather than make further recommendations. Among the responses was the BC Humanist Association’s (BCHA) recommendation on how to judge “voluntariness” and clear consent to die. BCHA argues that physician-assisted death should be a legal option to “all who choose it,” regardless of whether their ailment qualifies as “a grievous and irredeemable medical condition.”
Further, Dying With Dignity (DWD) Canada has criticized the panel’s membership. Of the three panel members, two have been outspoken opponents of a Canadian adult’s right to die on his or her own terms. Read DWD’s analysis.
CFIC applauds BCHA and DWD Canada for working to defend the rights of Canadian adults to make their own end-of-life decisions. CFIC has also made a written submission to the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying with the following 7 specific recommendations:
- respect for individual autonomy and dignity must take the primary place in the government’s treatment of this important issue
- moral propositions based on instinct, intuition and/or religious belief cannot be allowed to give rise to restrictions that would sterilize the right of a competent adult individual to seek medically assisted dying if life becomes valueless to that person
- legislators should be wary of arguments for restrictions that lack a solid foundation in scientific evidence
- concepts of competence and voluntariness are not self-applying; all moral and legal concepts are fraught with ambiguity and require judgment in their application. This should not be permitted to lead to unduly onerous restrictions on medically assisted dying
- restricting the right to those who have been diagnosed with terminal disease would not fully respect the Court’s decision and the value of individual autonomy that underpins it; the right should not be restricted to those whose irremediable condition is physical in nature as opposed to psychological
- CFIC submits that physician’s rights to conscientious objection should not extend to the power to refuse to refer patients to physicians who do not object to providing assistance in dying
- all publicly funded primary healthcare institutions must provide physician-assisted death services
Read our full letter: CFI Canada Submission PAD
CFIC received the following form reply to our written submission to the Joint Commission:
Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the Joint Special Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying (PDAM). A motion to create this committee was adopted by the Senate and House of Commons on Friday, December 11, 2015.
As soon as the details for public hearings are confirmed, the committee’s meeting schedule will be posted here:
All briefs will be submitted to the committee once translated. Please note also that your brief may be posted on-line at a later date.
You can follow the progress of committee by consulting the joint committee’s website here:
Read more about the external panel here: