Friday, April 22, 2016

How Canada's new Liberal government plans to deprive Canadians of their Charter rights

It is becoming clearer by the day that our newly elected federal government has an insatiable appetite for talking progressive while governing conservative. I suspect this will be our new normal until election time. The behaviour pattern is obvious. I doubt Mr Trudeau's feel-good activism on that frontier will carry the Liberals much longer. Canadians are catching on to them.

Anyhow, as a quick reminder, the Canadian Supreme Court declared that parts of the Criminal Code that criminalize assisted dying are unconstitutional.

Canada's Liberal government introduced its legislation on assisted dying in parliament.  It is being debated in committee today.

Here's the legislative draft proposal

A person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition if

(a) they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability;

(b) they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability;

(c) that illness, disease or disability or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable; and

(d) their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances, without a prognosis necessarily having been made as to the specific length of time that they have remaining.

Compare that to the Supreme Court's criteria:

'‘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.'

Ii is trivially true that 'd' in the legislative draft is too restrictive, given the criteria the Court has set. Terminal illness is not a defensible threshold condition for access. Patients do not have to be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability either. Excluding not terminally ill patients from access who meet the above mentioned Supreme Court criteria would clearly violate Canadians' Charter rights. 

Government released today its rationale for the proposed policy.  

Here we go,

Restricting access to only those individuals whose death is reasonably foreseeable allows them to choose a peaceful, medically assisted death where their medical circumstances are such that the dying process would otherwise be painful, distressing, frightening, prolonged or otherwise lacking dignity from their perspective. This approach respects autonomy during the passage to death, while otherwise prioritizing respect for human life and the equality of all people regardless of illness, disability or age. It also furthers the objective of suicide prevention and the protection of the vulnerable. Recognizing the complexity of the legal and social issues associated with medical assistance in dying, this approach strikes an appropriate balance between the competing rights, interests and values. 

It's plain for everyone to see that the Rationale is not actually a rationale as it does not explain at all why terminal illness is introduced as an eligibility threshold. 

The Justice department's briefing acknowledges the problem, it states,

This could impact the section 7 Charter rights of those who are suffering intolerably as a result of a serious and incurable condition, but whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable. This could include individuals suffering only from a mental illness, and individuals with physical disabilities who lack the physical capacity to end their own lives. Persons with mental illness or disabilities would only have access to medical assistance in dying if they meet all of the eligibility criteria.

And yet, our government (lacking a rationale to actually respond to this concern), pushes ahead anyway. I trust you will savour the Catholic language introduced in the rationale, where government prioritizes 'respect for human life' over our Charter right to make decisions about our continuing existence based on competent, autonomous choice and our actual quality of life. Intractable human suffering is apparently of no concern to the Liberals. Go figure. Truly, this is legislation the Harper Conservatives could have drafted. 


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