During an interview on the CBC radio show Cross Country Checkup in March, Jocelyn Downie, the Canada research chair in health, law and policy from Dalhousie University, stated she knew that new legislation was being drafted to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada. Downie also said a new test case had been drafted to challenge the Criminal Code prohibitions of euthanasia via the courts.
On April 13, Canadian Press published an interview with Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île), who had introduced Bill C-407 in 2005, a bill that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada. It died on the House floor when the election writ was dropped in November that year.
In her CP interview, Lalonde stated she intends to introduce new legislation to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide soon. Lalonde, who has been battling cancer for the past two years, is “pushing ahead with plans to force the House of Commons to relaunch the debate on assisted suicide.” It will be interesting to see how similar her new bill will be to her old one.
Bill C-407 would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for people suffering from chronic physical and mental pain, even though chronic physical and mental pain can be effectively treated. Bill C-407 did not require that a person at least attempt effective treatment for his or her chronic physical or mental pain. The bill stated that a person qualifies for euthanasia even if he or she has refused to try effective treatments.
Bill C-407 did not limit euthanasia to competent people. It aimed to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide for people who “appear to be lucid.” Euthanasia opponents wondered what it meant to “appear to be lucid.”
Bill C-407 also did not limit euthanasia to physicians alone. It allowed anyone to carry out euthanasia or assist a suicide on anyone else, as long as the administrator was “assisted by a medical practitioner” and acted in the manner indicated by the person who wished to die. Bill C-407 did not even provide the typical “safeguards” seen in other jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been proposed. Even if Lalonde tightens up the wording in her new proposal, we already know her intentions based on the wording of Bill C-407: wide-open, easy access to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Lalonde stated to CP: “I am not worried about abuse. I am worried, however, about what is going on in Quebec. People are suffering and can’t find help and they are putting moral pressure on people they know to help them die. I find that a slippery slope.”
Whereas the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is equally concerned about people who are suffering and can’t find help, we recognize this is related more to society’s failure to effectively provide good end-of-life care, rather than a need to legalize the killing of the vulnerable. Bill C-407 would have allowed one person to kill another person. Once society allows one person to kill another, it becomes impossible to protect those who are made to feel like a burden on society. Bill C-407 directly threatened the lives of people with disabilities and other vulnerable Canadians – people who need to be treated with equality and dignity and often need to be protected by society.
Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. This article is based on a post at his website alexschadenberg.blogspot.com, where he comments on end-of-life issues regularly.