On June 12, Francine Lalonde (Bloc Quebecois – La Pointe-de-l’Île) introduced Bill C-562, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Right to Die With Dignity) to amend Subsections 222(7) and 241(2) of the Criminal Code with an eye to legalizing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
In June 2005, Lalonde introduced Bill C-407, a similar bill. Bill C-562 has only minor variations from Bill C-407.
Section 222 is the homicide provision in the Criminal Code. Bill C-562 legalizes euthanasia by amending Subsection 222(7) of the Criminal Code. Euthanasia is a deliberate act undertaken by one person with the intention of ending the life of another person to relieve that person’s suffering where the act is the cause of death.
Section 241 is the assisted suicide provision in the Criminal Code. Bill C-562 legalizes assisted suicide by amending Subsection 241(2) of the Criminal Code. Assisted suicide is the act of intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another who provides the knowledge, means or both.
Bill C-562 amends the Criminal Code by adding to subsections 222(7) and 241(2) exceptions whereby the law can be circumvented. The bill states that the person must be at least 18 years old. This “safeguard” may be unconstitutional, because it limits what is determined by the bill to be appropriate medical treatment based on the age of the person. Since the Constitution recognizes that we are all equal under the law, it may be unconstitutional to limit the rights of individuals based on age, without good reason.
C-562 also states that the person is eligible for assisted suicide or euthanasia after trying or expressly refusing the appropriate treatments available and that he continues to experience severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief. Therefore, a person is eligible if he experiences severe physical pain without any prospect of relief. But physical and mental pain can always be mitigated. Whereas medical science has not solved every problem with pain and symptom management, the concept of physical pain without any prospect of relief is more a sign of a patient who has not been appropriately cared for and not a reason for euthanasia or assisted suicide.
The bill is a direct threat to the lives of people with disabilities and/or chronic conditions who are often viewed as being without any prospect of relief. People with disabilities and chronic conditions will often view their life experiences differently from those who are making a judgement of their quality of life.
Under C-562, a person is also eligible if he experiences severe mental pain without any prospect of relief. Chronic depression and mental pain is always treatable. Further, one must question the concept of providing euthanasia and assisted suicide to a person who experiences a chronic depression or mental pain, because you could never be sure they are competent to consent.
Also, the bill does not require medical practitioners to refer people with mental pain to a registered psychiatrist or a psychologist. And a person is also eligible even if he has refused appropriate treatments that are available. How can a physician determine that there is no prospect of relief if the person refuses appropriate treatments?
C-562 states that the person is eligible if he or she suffers from a terminal illness, yet the bill does not define terminal illness. Also, it is not unusual for people to live with a terminal illness, but not be actively dying. My stepfather lived for 2 1/2 years after being diagnosed with cancer, yet this bill would have qualified him for euthanasia or assisted suicide when he was diagnosed.
The bill states that a person is eligible if he has provided a medical practitioner, while appearing to be lucid, with two written requests more than 10 days apart expressly stating his free and informed consent to opt to die. The assumption that someone is competent when he is appearing to be lucid is questionable. To merely “appear” lucid cannot be considered an appropriate measure for competency. The safeguard related to making two written requests more than 10 days apart is to prove the lasting intent of the person. The fact that the person who makes the request only needs to appear to be lucid renders the safeguard ineffective.
C-562 states a person can designate in writing with free and informed consent, before two witnesses with no personal interest in the death of the person, another person to act on his or her behalf with any medical practitioner when the person does not appear to be lucid. This means that a person can die by euthanasia if he has made the request in a valid advanced directive. It is unclear whether the person who commits euthanasia on behalf of the incompetent person must be a medical practitioner. The bill states that “another person can act on his or her behalf with any medical practitioner when the person does not appear to be lucid.” This may mean that a person can cause the death of an incompetent person if it is done with a medical practitioner and fulfills the request within a valid advanced directive.
The bill requires that written confirmation of the diagnosis be received from at least two medical practitioners, yet the bill does not limit the practice of doctor shopping. We know, for example, that in the state of Oregon where euthanasia is legal, people who are denied an assisted suicide prescription from one doctor will simply go to another doctor.
There are other so-called limitations and safeguards that are ineffective or ill-defined at best. Medical practitioners must determine that the request for assisted suicide was not made under duress. The consequences of euthanasia and assisted suicide must be explained to patients.
Medical practitioners must provide the coroner with information regarding the death, a common “after-the-fact” reporting system that exists in other jurisdictions that have legalized euthanasia and/or assisted suicide. After-the-fact reporting does not provide any protection for the person who has died already; it only provides protection for the medical practitioner.
C-562 defines a medical practitioner as a duly qualified person by provincial law to practise medicine. In other words, the definition of medical practitioner is not limited to a physician.
Legalizing euthanasia and/or assisted suicide is always wrong, because it directly and intentionally threatens the lives of the most vulnerable members of society. The lives of people with disabilities and chronic conditions, people who live with depression and mental illness and others are directly threatened by euthanasia and assisted suicide. Society cannot legislate autonomy and choice in relation to acts that intentionally and directly cause death. No level of safeguard will ever protect vulnerable people from the subtle pressure to “choose” death.
It also establishes euthanasia and assisted suicide as treatment options for problems that are properly solved by effective and compassionate medical care.
Canadians must reject Bill C-562. Canadians must promote the right of every Canadian to excellent end-of-life care and to guarantee that every Canadian is treated with respect and dignity until his or her natural death.
Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, alexschadenberg.blogspot.com, on June 20.
Summary of Bill C-562
- The bill legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.
- The bill does not restrict euthanasia and assisted suicide to citizens of Canada.
- The person must be at least 18 years old.
- A person may refuse appropriate treatments and still obtain euthanasia or assisted suicide.
- The person may be experiencing either physical or mental pain. The bill effectively permits death as a treatment for depression or other chronic mental conditions.
- The bill does not define terminal illness and is not limited to people who are terminally ill.
- The bill measures competency based on appearing to be lucid. What does that mean?
- The bill allows incompetent people to die by euthanasia if they have made the request within a valid advanced directive. It is not clear whether medical practitioners are the only ones who can carry out euthanasia on incompetent people.
- The definition of a medical practitioner is not limited to a physician.