Paul Tuns, Terry Vanderheyden and John-Henry Westen
The Interim

After the first hour of debate on Bill C-407, a private member’s bill that would permit assisted suicide, pro-life groups were concerned that while the government opposed this particular bill, it might offer its own euthanasia legislation in the next Parliament.

The Liberal Ministry of Justice expressed its opposition to many aspects of a Bloc-sponsored bill to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia during debate on the bill Oct. 31. The government, however, gave strong indication that it would not oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation that met its own conditions on how such legislation should be worded.

Paul Harold Macklin, Canada’s attorney-general and parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said, “Having examined the bill, I am confident in stating my position that Bill C-407 should not be supported.” Bill C-407 was introduced June 15 by La Pointe-de-l’Île Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde.

“Bill C-407 raises some very important issues about death and dignity,” Macklin stated. “For many, the proposals in this bill may appear, at first blush, to be worthy of support. However, it is important to have a solid understanding of what the bill would do, if enacted, in order to decide whether debate on this bill should continue.”

Macklin expressed concern that the proposed bill would open the door to assisted suicide not only being performed by doctors, but by anyone. “The bill is quite broad in scope,” Macklin continued. “It seeks to create an exception not only to the assisted suicide offence, but also to the offence of murder. As such, Bill C-407 would permit some forms of euthanasia, as well as assisted suicide. It is important to note that the person who aids another person to die does not have to be a doctor. The bill provides that the aider, or the person who assists, must be assisted by a doctor and it does not state whether the doctor’s assistance would be at the time of death.”

Macklin condemned the vague wording of the bill concerning to whom it would apply. “The bill would not only apply to terminally ill patients, but also to persons who suffer from severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief,” he said.
“Theoretically, persons who suffer from depression could request assistance in dying and those who aid them would not be found criminally liable if the conditions of the bill were respected. Bill C-407 has the potential to permit quite a vast array of situations.”

When it comes to safeguards, Macklin said a “glaring shortcoming” the bill leaves out is a “marked departure from the existing medical and legal standard for providing a free and informed consent.” The wording in Bill C-407 of “while appearing to be lucid‚ would introduce into the law what could be characterized as a vague, broad and arbitrary term to justify actions to terminate someone’s life,” he emphasized.

Macklin condemned a lack of requirements for those who euthanize another to report to a coroner. “The legal regimes in other jurisdictions that have permissive laws in this area, such as the state of Oregon, the Netherlands and Belgium, have extensive reporting provisions in their statutes,” he explained. “These not only provide an oversight mechanism, but also enable the collection of valuable data to track the activities and to evaluate the application of this legal regime that is in place.”

The Canadian attorney-general’s reference to a supposedly positive aspect of Holland’s euthanasia program is certain to alarm the 100 physicians and lawyers who recently published a joint statement on euthanasia and assisted suicide. They stated, “Euthanasia, once legalized, would result in patients being killed who had not requested to die. The experience of the Netherlands in legalizing euthanasia points to the fact that euthanasia, once legalized, cannot be effectively controlled.”

Macklin went on to expose other deficiencies in the bill, including that there was an acute lack of consultation with groups having a special interest in the matter, such as the disabled, medical personnel and coroners.

“Average Canadians should be invited to share their points of view and their concerns on these issues, because these are moral issues and therefore very personal,” Macklin concluded, hinting at a potential revision of the bill. “Although some Canadians would favour a change in this area of the law, what remains unknown, and is critical to this debate, is whether their opinions are based on a good level of awareness of the issues, the law and the ramifications.

Again, even if there is an appetite for change, we need to know what Canadians would consider being appropriate in terms of a legal regime before moving ahead with specific proposals as we have here. In this regard, Bill C-407 is, I suggest, being introduced prematurely. It is also, quite realistically, too broad in scope as I described earlier.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told The Interim that while it looks like C-407 will “have a short life-span” and die on the House floor with the imminent election call, he is concerned the Liberals may be considering a euthanasia bill of their own.

“In the ashes of Bill C-407, there will be a new bill after the next election that seems more moderate to most people,” said Schadenberg.

He said that Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and Attorney-General Paul Macklin made clear their opposition is specifically related to the wording of C-407 and not to the principle of assisted suicide. Schadenberg is worried that the “legacy of C-407 will be to soften political and public opposition to doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia and that we will see another bill in the next Parliament, if Paul Martin’s Liberal party wins.”

Portions of this story originally appeared Nov. 2 on