This week, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying released its report to Parliament. The majority report makes 21 recommendations on how the Federal Government should address assisted suicide and euthanasia. Many of the recommendations are deeply troubling. We attended all of the Committee hearings that were open to the public, and are not surprised by the recommendations, but had hoped they would heed the cautions of the many witnesses who urged restraint.
We will be engaging in a more thorough analysis of the Committee’s recommendations in the coming days, but we’ve highlighted for you some of our key concerns, below.
As you know, the EFC has maintained complete opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, but we are engaging in the public and political discourse to ensure that occurrences are rare, that the inherent risks and harms are minimized, and that those who are vulnerable are protected.
What the Committee has recommended fails to meet the Court’s own insistence that stringent safeguards that are scrupulously monitored and enforced are put in place to protect those who are vulnerable. The federal government will consider the recommendations, and will introduce legislation in the weeks to come. We will be pressing hard for stringent safeguards and protections as the government considers the report and develops legislation.
We ask for your prayers. Pray for us as we meet with MPs and Senators, and work with like-minded faith-based and secular groups to minimize the harms and inherent risks of going down this path.
Educate those within your circle of influence, and encourage them to pray and to communicate with their MPs, and with Senators from their province. We have resources to assist people.
Continue to encourage people to sign the Declaration against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, developed by the EFC and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Last, as Christians, we are to protect the vulnerable, to care for the sick and dying and to walk with those who are in the valley of the shadow of death. May we be faithful witnesses and agents of God’s love.
Bruce J. Clemenger Julia Beazley
President Director, Public Policy
Initial Analysis of the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying
The Committee is recommending far more expansive access to assisted death than the Supreme Court provided in the Carter decision. In Carter, the Court sought to strike a delicate balance between the government’s interest in promoting and protecting life, and individual autonomy. We argued that to treat the decision as a floor, and to allow more expansive access to assisted death, as the Committee has, is to misunderstand and disrupt the balance the Court was trying to achieve. The Court believed that allowing limited exceptions to the blanket ban on assisted suicide would not compromise the preservation of our society’s respect for life nor expose vulnerable persons to the risk of wrongful death. Yet, evidence shows that there have been wrongful deaths in jurisdictions that allow assisted death.
Illness does not have to be terminal, or physical
The Committee does not restrict euthanasia and assisted suicide to people who are terminally ill, or to those who have a physical illness. This is important, because the focus of the Court in Carter was on allowing assistance in suicide for adults with terminal and degenerative conditions who would not be physically able to take their own lives at a certain point. A strict adherence to Carter would restrict eligibility to a competent adult who is terminally ill, with a degenerative condition, near the end of their life and who might choose to end their life sooner if assistance would not be available to them when their condition became intolerable and they could not take their own life.
The Committee recommends not excluding individuals with a psychiatric condition, even in the absence of a physical illness, from eligibility for assisted death. They also recommended that psychological suffering – whether or not physical illness is also present – be recognized as a criterion for assisted death. And they do not require psychiatric assessment of patients with psychiatric conditions, or whose suffering is psychological.
The Committee recommends a two stage implementation, with assisted death made available initially to those 18 years of age and older, and extended to mature minors within three years.
The Committee agrees that physicians who object to euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be required to perform “medical assistance in dying”, but they recommend that those physicians should be required, at a minimum, to make an effective referral. For some doctors who object conscientiously, to make a referral is to participate in the taking of a life. We are concerned that conscience protections will not extend to these, and they will be faced with the choice of complying or being disciplined by their professional body. No other permissive jurisdiction requires objecting physicians to refer.
There is also a lack of conscience protection for institutions that object to euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Committee recommends that the government ensure that all publicly funded institutions provide these services. Many faith-based hospitals, extended care facilities and hospices receive varying degrees of government funding.
They recommend allowing advance directives for people who have been diagnosed with a medical condition that may become grievous and irremediable. This would mean that a patient wouldn’t have to give consent or be competent to give consent at the time of their death.
No prior review or approval
The Committee recommends that two independent physicians confirm a patient’s eligibility for assistance, but doesn’t recommend any pre-assessment beyond this. In fact, they recommend that the government work with provinces and territories to ensure that there is no prior review and approval process required.
While the Committee does recommend some good measures on palliative care toward the end of the report, the nod given to the issue is not sufficient to ensure people have real choice at the end of life. The measures they suggest are essential, and ones we recommend and support, but they will not effect change quickly. As noted in the report of the Federal External Panel, “A request for physician-assisted death can not be truly voluntary if the option of palliative care isn’t available to alleviate a person’s suffering.”
THE EVANGELICAL FELLOWSHIP OF CANADA
Together for influence, impact and identity
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians, gathered together for influence, impact and identity in ministry and public witness. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a national forum for Evangelicals and a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society. In addition to 40 evangelical denominations, the EFC affiliatesinclude ministry organizations, educational institutions and individual congregations, who uphold a common statement of faith. The EFC is an active participant in the World Evangelical Alliance.