Harold Albrecht MP

A new parliamentary committee is working to find alternatives to euthanasia or assisted suicide for the dying, disabled, and elderly.

On April 21, a news conference announced the creation of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care (PCPCC) just hours before Parliament voted down MP Francine Lalonde’s (La Pointe-de-L’Île, BQ) private member’s bill that would have legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. According to its website, the non-partisan committee is “aimed at promoting awareness of glaring deficiencies in Canada’s palliative and compassionate care network, fostering constructive dialogue and substantive research on an array of related subjects and implementing policies to address this critical deficiency in the nation’s approach to long-term health.”

The co-chairs of the non-partisan group are Harold Albrecht (Conservative, Kitchener-Conestoga), Michelle Simson (Liberal, Scarborough-Southwest), and Joe Comartin (NDP, Windsor-Tecumseh). The other three founding members are Liberal Frank Valeriote (Guelph, Lib) and Conservatives Kelly Block (Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar) and Lois Brown (Newmarket-Aurora). The group currently boasts more than 40 MPs from all four political parties and one member of the committee told The Interim that there may be over 50 when the committee introduces its report, which would represent about one-sixth of all parliamentarians.

The purpose of the committee is not merely to oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. “We have to go deeper than that and ask why people are even considering it,” Albrecht told LifeSiteNews.com. “How can we improve the palliative care in our country so that the question won’t even need to be asked?”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition applauds the initiative and hopes that it will “allow us to provide a positive response to the care Canadians need,” according to Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. He told The Interim, “It’s about coming up with a solution.”

The committee will address four pillars in its research: palliative care, suicide prevention, elder abuse, and disability issues. There is a “significantly larger number of elderly Canadians,” committee assistant George Dienesch, told The Interim, “and we have got to start planning how to deal with them.” Within the palliative care category, the committee is investigating the state of long-term chronic care, pain control, and family/home-centered care giving in Canada. The issue is underscored by Canada’s ranking of 9 out of 40 on the Quality of Death Index prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit. According to the report, Canada’s end-of-life care is not well coordinated, expensive, does not respect the wishes of patients, and lacks policy leadership.

The PCPCC furthermore aims to investigate creating a national strategy for suicide prevention to improve treatment for those with mental health problems, such as depression. The committee will also deal with elder abuse, which may affect up to 10 per cent of seniors and takes different forms, including financial, physical, medical, and mental abuse.

Another focus will be disability rights, which are frequently devalued because of the perceived quality of life of the disabled. The PCPCC has already held a hearing for disability rights with key stakeholder groups in Ottawa on June 16, where it heard grievances about access to care for the disabled. Rhonda Wiebe of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities told the committee: “When our colleague the late Mike Rosner, a Manitoban with disability, went to hospital with pneumonia, he expected treatment to cure his illness. However, his doctors offered to make him comfortable while nature took its course. Members of the disability community had to advocate on his behalf to get him the treatment he needed.”

Jim Derksen, who helped develop several disability rights groups and advocated the inclusion of disabled rights on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, testified:  “The commonly mistaken notion that our quality of life is so poor that it is not worth living results in a social environment in which people with disabilities are vulnerable — in which they risk ultimate harm from apparently well-intentioned, caring people. The situation may one day be corrected by means of the understanding that the quality of life of people with disabilities is not significantly different from that of those without.”

Throughout the Summer and Fall, the committee held roundtable hearings and consultations across the country with stakeholder groups, MPs, and the public to examine the issues and possible solutions. At one such forum held in Windsor on Sept. 8 led by MPs Joe Comartin and Brian Masse (NDP, Windsor West), families complained about long waiting lists to access money for in-home help with a disabled or mentally ill person, as well as high costs to care for the dying at home. Once the information and public input is gathered and analyzed, the committee will draw up a final report which they expect to be ready by the beginning of February. Then, said Dienesch, “it will be up to the MPs and the stakeholder groups to utilize the report to urge action” on the government.

The committee is still looking for e-mail or letter submissions about Canadians’ experiences and challenges with end-of-life, palliative, and health care services in Canada. Submissions may be e-mailed to AlbreH6@parl.gc.ca or mailed to the Office of Harold Albrecht MP to the attention of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care, room 402, Justice Buildin, House of Commons, Ottawa,
K1A 0A6.