National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

In a remarkable report released in December, the Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) which was convened by the Canadian Council of Academies at the request of the Trudeau government concluded that there is no consensus among academic authorities on the wisdom of amending Canada’s euthanasia law to include MAiD for mature minors, advance directives for MAiD, or MAiD for mentally ill, but otherwise healthy, patients.

For a Canadian academic body, such a frank acknowledgment of diversity of opinion is most unusual. While respect for academic freedom to express controversial opinions used to be a hallmark of Canadian universities, the great majority of arts and humanities faculties today are in the grips of liberal and progressive ideologues who tolerate little or no scope for the expression of alternative viewpoints by students or faculty.

In this respect, the Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying was typical. In its final report in 2015, the nine members of this body agreed unanimously that the Criminal Code should grant mentally competent minors as young as age 12 the right to physician-assisted suicide, regardless of the wishes of their parents.

Two members of this previous Expert Advisory Group – Jocelyn Downie, university research professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University, and Jennifer Gibson, Sun Life Financial Chair in Bioethics at the University of Toronto – also took part in the Expert Panel created by the Canadian Council of Academies. However, unlike the former expert advisory group, which was stacked entirely with supporters of MAiD, the expert panel included two outspoken opponents of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide – Dr. Dawn Davies, a pediatric palliative care physician and professor at the University of Ottawa, and Dr. Eric Wasylenko, professor and specialist in palliative care at the University of Calgary.

Unlike some palliative-care physicians who have capitulated to public pressure in favour of MAiD, Davies and Wasylenko still firmly subscribe to the traditional principle enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath that a physician should never deliberately kill a patient. Thus, during a debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide at the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in 2013, Wasylenko attested: “My personal view is it is not within the role of the physician or the practice of medicine to actually deliberately cause someone’s death, even if they’ve asked for it. The role of physicians and medical care is to support people in their life until their natural death, not to kill them artificially or in advance of their natural death.”

Furthermore, Davies and Wasylenko deserve credit for getting at least some of their viewpoints included in the report of the expert panel. For example, in the section on MAiD for mature minors, the report cites several concerns including the possibility that “allowing mature minors to request MAiD might normalize suicide among young people, especially those who struggle with mental disorders and may be considered vulnerable.”

Downie, Gibson, and others who support legalized euthanasia for minors discount this danger. But on what evidentiary basis? Practically none. The expert panel reports that Belgium and the Netherlands are the only jurisdictions in the world that have legalized euthanasia for mature minors and among the more than 60,000 documented cases of patients who have been euthanized in those countries, only 16 involved mature minors, including just one patient age 14 and another 12.

Health Canada requires the completion of clinical trials involving thousands of patients over several years before it will approve the general distribution of a new cancer drug. For any academic to advocate the legalization of physician-assisted suicide for mature minors on the basis of the little that is known about only 16 patients worldwide is downright reckless.

Regardless, it is all too likely that this entire debate will prove fruitless. In one of its more convoluted passages, the panel observes: “Denying MAiD to mature minors would pose a potential future legal challenge if a case were to be brought forward in which a mature minor argued that their constitutional rights were being denied.”

Exactly. Under the pretense of upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms over the past 35 years, the Supreme Court of Canada has arrogated to itself the authority to decide all major issues of public policy.

Why, then, should Parliament waste time pondering the merits of expanding the legal limits of MAiD to include mature minors, advance directives and the mentally ill when it is our overweening judicial masters who are bound ultimately to decide these issues – just as they arbitrarily imposed legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide on Canadians in the first place.