On March 27 MP Steven Fletcher (CPC, Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia), who is a quadriplegic, tabled a pair of private members bills, C-581 and C-582, that would allow euthanasia and assisted-suicide in Canada. Considering that Fletcher is far down the order of precedence, at #240, it is unlikely his bill will be considered in the House of Commons before the October 2015 federal election, but Fletcher says his intention is to spur a public debate about the issue, claiming “the majority of Canadians want the choice of doctor assisted dying.”
C-581 would amend the Criminal Code to allow physicians to assist individuals to end their life, while C-582 would establish the Canadian Commission on Physician-Assisted Death to oversee legalized euthanasia. Both bills were seconded by NDP MP Manon Perreault (Montcalm), who is a paraplegic.
Fletcher said while introducing the two bills, that they “protect vulnerable individuals while empowering competent adults to make the best decisions for them based on their values not on someone else’s.”
Fletcher became a quadriplegic at the age of 23 when he hit a moose with his car. In 2009, he said he would not support a bill legalizing euthanasia because more needed to be done to improve the lives of people with severe disabilities and that care for terminally ill patients needs to get much better. He wrote in the National Post at the time that during his difficult recovery which included “emotional pain and terror” due to his difficulty breathing, he would have considered euthanasia if it were legal and would have missed out on the experience of being an MP.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, numerous other pundits and politicians, have welcomed Fletcher’s bill as an opportunity to have a national conversation about end-of-life issues, ignoring that in 2010, Parliament defeated Francine Lalonde’s euthansia bill by a 228-59 vote and that the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that Section 241 of Canada’s Criminal Code prohibiting euthanasia is constitutional; the Supreme Court is again considering the issue this fall in the appeal of Carter v. Canada, a British Columbia decision that overturned the prohibition.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said he welcomes the debate, but only one that is honest and looks comprehensively at euthanasia. He said, the EPC “welcomes an open and forthright debate that provides all information and facts concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide,” but “we are not interested in a one-sided debate. The more facts and information that Canadians have about euthanasia and assisted suicide, the more they oppose it.” He pointed to studies of euthanasia in Belgium and Netherlands that illustrate safeguards do not protect vulnerable individuals from being killed.
Schadenberg also said that Fletcher’s bills have imprecise or vague terminology, such as “end-of-life,” which is not defined and would do little to protect people against euthanasia.
Campaign Life Coalition national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said in a press release that “there is no way to provide adequate protection from abuse of legal euthanasia or assisted suicide,” and CLC said the focus of any political debate about end-of-life care should be on providing “excellent quality palliative care.” CLC also urged MPs to vote against Fletcher’s bill when it arrives on the floor of the House of Commons.
Schadenberg told The Interim, “the fact is that legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is lethal and not safe.”
Last October, NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) introduced M-456, which as seconded by nine MPs from the Conservative, Liberal, and NDP parties, calling for the establishment of a Pan-Canadian Palliative Care and End-Of-Life Strategy. It calls for the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to create an “integrated model of palliative care.”
It had first reading on April 1.