Since the federal election campaign began in early August, a variety of issues are being presented to the Canadian public in an effort to influence their vote. Assisted suicide is one topic that has not yet received the attention it deserves according to Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Schadenberg told The Interim that his organization is “in a quandary,” because “this is possibly the most important election Canada has ever had, and people aren’t realizing the importance of their vote.”
Canadians with disabilities “will likely have the worst case scenario” if the Liberals or NDP form the new government, said Schadenberg. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Criminal Code prohibition against assisted suicide in February and Parliament was given one year to craft new legislation, but this period was cut short when the election was called. It will be up to the next Parliament to fill the vacuum.
Schadenberg can’t yet say what the future holds. “Everything is up in the air. Whoever gets elected will determine what is possible, and politics is the art of the possible.” As in the case of Quebec’s Bill 52, it is possible for provinces to “go it alone” before a higher level of government can act. “Who has jurisdiction – the federal or provincial government?” Schadenberg wondered. “Which approach is constitutional?”
In the meantime, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is keeping a close eye on the federal and provincial committees exploring the issue. The latter, in Ontario, is reportedly “one-sided.” Sister Nuala Kenny is the sole “token” euthanasia opponent or skeptic in EPC’s view. Notable supporters of assisted suicide on the committee include Manitoba bioethicist Arthur Schafer and Dalhousie University law professor Jocelyn Downie. The co-chair is Maureen Taylor, widow of microbiologist Donald Low, who released a video calling for legal assisted suicide in the final days of his battle with cancer.
Schadenberg called the EPC’s “Give Us Time” postcard “a massive success,” with “more than 160,000 cards distributed, and the government established the committee we were asking for.” Yet the group cannot rest on its accomplishments. They still aim to pressure the government “to use the notwithstanding clause, so an appropriate piece of legislation can go through” – one that does not define assisted suicide as medical treatment. The clause, from section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enables Parliament to set aside the results of a Supreme Court decision for up to five years. For now, the EPC will work towards informing their 15,000 Canadian contacts and “hope for the best.”
Meanwhile, NDP leader Tom Mulcair said he would ask the Supreme Court for more time to draft a new law, although there is no indication the Court would grant such a request.
In 2014, the Liberal Party policy convention endorsed euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.
Many Conservative MPs and candidates are opposed to euthanasia although Parliament’s most vocal euthanasia advocate is Tory MP Steven Fletcher, who is seeking re-election in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.