Canadian Euthanasia Bill Aims to Eliminate the “End of life” Criterion

On October 6, 2020, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada tabled a bill to eliminate the end-of-life criterion for the law on euthanasia and Medical Assistance In Dying (“MAiD”).

Such a provision would make Canada the most permissive country in terms of euthanasia and thus put vulnerable individuals at great risk.

This bill, known as the “C-7 Bill”, is being reintroduced in identical terms to those previously proposed during the parliamentary session in February, just prior to the federal election and the election of a new parliament.

The laws decriminalizing euthanasia were initially voted in 2015 in Quebec, before the Federal Court legalized the particularly transgressive “MAiD” laws throughout the country in 2016. And only one year after their implementation, there is already a demand to extend this law based on emblematic cases

The C-7 bill was drafted in response to the Quebec Superior Court’s ruling handed down on September 11, 2019, commonly known as the Gladu Truchon decision.

“Mr. Jean Truchon and Mrs. Nicole Gladu, two adults suffering from major irreversible handicaps and experiencing intolerable suffering which did not impact their life expectancy, filed a court action in 2017 seeking a declaration that the restrictive federal and provincial criteria are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs maintained that the Federal Statute and the Provincial Statute violated their right to life, liberty and security of the person guaranteed by section 7 of the Charter, as well as their right to equality guaranteed by section 15.”

In its judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the “end of life” criterion stipulated in the law decriminalizing euthanasia in Quebec was unconstitutional. It called for amending the Criminal Code by removing the “reasonably foreseeable natural death” clause within 6 months. This deadline has already been extended twice and is due to expire on December 18, 2020.

The federal government could have appealed this decision and thereby avoided the risk of being faced with a law which dangerously threatens the rights of the most vulnerable. Indeed, the judgment was denounced by 71 disability and human dignity associations who filed an appeal with the Canadian Attorney General on the grounds of protecting the rights of disabled persons.

The federal government completely ignored these warnings and is now proposing a law including a series of measures which seriously affect these rights.

Under the new C-7 bill, the criteria for having access to euthanasia and assisted suicide would now vary depending on whether the applicant’s death is reasonably foreseeable or not, based on an assessment by two doctors or nurses. In addition, all requests for “MAiD” would only require the written request signed before one single witness, whereas the current law requires two independent witnesses.

The current federal law also requires a 10-day delay between the request for MaiD Mand the actual euthanasia. In the event of a foreseeable natural death, the C-7 bill would eliminate this cooling-off period, meaning that medical assistance in dying could be sought and obtained on the very same day.

When natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, the person must be informed of available means to relieve his suffering, and “there is a 90-day delay for determining if his application meets the eligibility requirements, unless prior assessments have been made and the risk of losing his decision-making capacity is imminent.”

The law currently requires for the patient to be fully conscious and aware of his decision and be given the opportunity to express his “ultimate consent” immediately before receiving medical assistance in dying. The C-7 bill would waive the ultimate consent requirement for those at risk of losing their decision-making capacity prior to the date established for MAiD. “The bill would also waive the ultimate consent if the person, after losing his or her decision-making capacity, appears to refuse or resist receiving MAiD. Reflexes and other involuntary movements, such as the reaction to touch or the insertion of a needle, do not constitute refusal or resistance.” This waiver would also be applied to cases of failed suicide, where an individual fails to successfully complete a medically assisted suicide, the bill provides for a doctor to step in and “finish the job”, without obtaining the person’s consent.

On November 10, 2020, the Living With Dignity association submitted a report to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (“JUST”). As an expert on end-of-life issues, this association analyzed the issues of amending or removing the current legal safeguards for people at the end of life and the risks of implementing “MAiD” for those who are not at the end of life. Here are its main recommendations: there is no obligation whatsoever for the federal government to change these safeguards for people at the end of life, access to MaiD shoud not be allowed for people who are not at the end of life.

On October 9, the collective group of citizens, “Living With Dignity” published an open letter deploring the reintroduction of the bill. “A global pandemic separates February from October 2020. Over the past few months, we have acted collectively with great caution to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. And now, with psychological distress on the rise throughout the nation, the government is about to facilitate access to euthanasia for those who are ill or living with a serious and incurable disability.” Living With Dignity calls upon the federal elected officials to amend Bill C-7 prior to the filing deadline on November 19, 2020.

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