The federal Conservatives’ appointment of a panel to advise the government on how to regulate doctor-assisted suicide is a welcome development, says the president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada.
“I’m hoping something good will come of this,” Alex Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview. “We will have an opportunity to have our voice heard,” and “to make recommendations that are clear, and I think that’s an important opportunity.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose announced July 17 that the three-member panel will consult medical experts, “key stakeholders,” and the public on possible responses to the Supreme Courts Carter v. Canada decision. The Feb. 6 ruling struck down Canada’s current law banning doctor-assisted suicide as unconstitutional, but gave the government a year to draft new legislation, if it chooses to do so.
Chairing the panel is Harvey Max Chochinov, a psychiatrist and Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care at the University of Manitoba.
The other panelists are disability rights advocate Catherine Frazee, professor emeritus of Ryerson University, former co-director of Ryerson’s Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education, and one-time chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; and Benoît Pelletier, a constitutional law professor at University of Ottawa and former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister.
Critics are already calling bias because Chochinov and Frazee were Crown witnesses in the Carter case when it was heard in BC courts, with the National Post and iPolitics quoting representatives of Dying with Dignity and the BC Civil Liberties Association.
But Chochinov, a world-renowned authority on palliative care, told the National Post that while his views are known, he was chosen not for his opinion but his expertise. “The court has now said, with the lifting of the prohibition, that some legislative and regulatory things are going to need to be put into place, and we need to sort out what those are going to be,” he stated.
And Canadians should focus on the fact that “you actually have two great experts here,” noted Schadenberg. “The government needs good advice as to how to deal with this issue, and I think they’ve picked two people who are capable of providing that good advice.”
As director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, Chochinov is “known worldwide as an expert in care of the dying,” Schadenberg said, noting he developed the Dignity in Care model of health care, a therapy model that helps terminally ill people “find maximum ability to live their life until they die a natural end.”
Frazee is a “very intellectually powerful woman” who is “respected worldwide in disability studies and in disability advocacy,” and “who has lived her life with a very significant disability,” he noted.
According to the National Post, the panel will look at what forms of doctor-assisted suicide should be used, such as lethal injection by the doctor, or prescribing medication for the patient to take, safeguards to protect conscience rights for doctors, and eligibility.
The Supreme Court decision’s eligibility criteria for doctor-assisted suicide is extremely broad, and includes “any competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
The panel will submit a report to the government by “late fall of 2015” according to the ministry’s press release – which will probably be after the October election.
The government could also refuse to act by the February 2016 deadline, leaving Canada with no federal law governing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. The EPCC has been calling for the notwithstanding clause to be invoked to give Parliament more time.
This article originally appeared July 20, 2015 at LifeSiteNews and is used with permission.