A Conservative and Liberal senator have teamed up to jump-start the stalled debate on MP Steven Fletcher’s euthanasia and assisted-suicide bill.
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth and Liberal Senator Larry Campbell, both Paul Martin appointees, introduced Bill S-225, which, if passed, would amend the Criminal Code to allow physicians to kill patients with a lethal prescription. Anyone over 18 would be eligible if they had an “illness, a disease or disability … that causes the person physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to that person and that cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person.”
S-225 would amend section 14 of the Criminal Code that prohibits anyone from consenting to have death “inflicted on him” and prevents such consent from absolving the “the criminal responsibility of any person” who inflicts death. It would also amend section 241 of the Criminal Code that prohibits aiding and abetting a suicide.
The bill is similar to two introduced by Fletcher (Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley) last year, C-581 and C-582. Fletcher, a quadriplegic following an automobile collision with a moose in 1996, who says he may want to avail himself of euthanasia one day, said he wanted to kickstart a debate on the issue of euthanasia even though his place near the bottom on the order of precedence would prevent his private member’s bill from being considered before the 2015 election. Fletcher said he was “grateful that Nancy Ruth and Larry Campbell have taken the torch and brought it over to the Senate” to debate because “obviously most elected representatives do not want to deal with this.”
But Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, noted that “Canada has debated euthanasia and assisted suicide on many occasions with the most recent vote in parliament (April 2010) where bill C-384 was defeated by a vote of 228 to 59.”
If Bill S-225 were to pass in the Senate, it would receive priority in the House. When Fletcher announced his two private member’s bills, the Conservative government issued a statement reiterating its position that it did not want to reopen the euthanasia debate.
Schadenberg called S-225 “a dangerous bill” because it “is intentionally permissive, designed to protect physicians who act by lethally injecting or assisting the suicide of their patients.” Schadenberg said, S-225 “is not designed to protect the patients.” He said S-225 is not limited to the terminally ill and “specifically allows euthanasia and assisted suicide for people with disabilities” even though most people with disabilities do not want legal euthanasia. He also said the bill would permit euthanasia or assisted suicide for “psychological suffering” even though that term is not defined.
Schadenberg also took issue with the notion that the bill provides safeguards, noting, “the bill requires the physician to self-report the death after it has already occurred.” He said, “this assumes that physicians will self-report abuse of the law. Since the patient is dead, when the act is reported, therefore no actual protection exists for the patient.”
The Quebec-based disabilities rights group Living with Dignity issued a statement on their website criticizing S-225. They said instead of killing patients, the health care system should focus on “improving proper access to pain and symptom management to everyone who needs it,” and that social services “should also go towards improving suicide prevention and appropriate access to services for people with disabilities.”
Living with Dignity also took issue with the notion of safeguards: “The language on the bill is open to interpretation and opens the door for abuse.”
They urged legislators to vote against S-225, regardless of their position on euthanasia and assisted suicide, because “it is poorly written and provides no real safeguards.”