Dear Mr. Trudeau:
In its proposed Bill C-14, the Government of Canada introduces a vague criterion for eligibility to medical assistance in dying, a criterion which is nowhere found in the landmark Supreme Court decision to which the legislation responds. The requirement that death must be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to qualify for medical assistance in dying lacks clarity. This requirement may prevent those who face grievous, intolerable and irremediable suffering but whose death is not imminent from exercising their constitutional right. In doing so, it would shift unduly the burden of defining what is intended by this criterion through lengthy court battles to a person whose right potentially may have been abrogated.
The Government of Canada must not place this burden on people whose intolerable suffering is the very reason for this legislation. That’s why we are calling on the Government of Canada to seek clarification from the Supreme Court of Canada in a reference to determine whether or not the requirement at 241.2 (2) (d) of Bill C-14 that a patient’s death within a period of time is not too remote is consistent with Carter v. Canada.
A reference to the Supreme Court in this matter has two significant advantages. It brings clarity in a timely fashion. By leaving the meaning of ‘reasonably foreseeable’ to be defined by the courts with the potential for appeals means such clarity could escape us for decades. Physicians and other health professionals deserve clarity in considering requests for medical assistance in dying. Placing the burden of decisions to permit medical assistance in dying on health professionals without sufficient clarity introduces the risk that many will opt to not grant the right to such assistance.
Imagine for a moment living with insufferable pain, without the autonomy to move, swallow or speak, and with fatigue that makes even the smallest task overwhelming. For some, with very progressive forms of multiple sclerosis, such a life is intolerable.
The MS Society of Canada respects and values the autonomy of all persons with MS in making decisions that affect the quality and outcome of their lives. That includes the choice to live a full and rich life in dignity in a place of one’s choosing with adequate and appropriate supports, surrounded by loved ones. And the choice to seek medical assistance to end one’s life, a right granted to Canadians by the Supreme Court of Canada in February 2015.
The choice to be free of suffering, to peacefully die with the assistance of medical professionals, should not be taken away from those who are in greatest need of the choice because of lack of clarity in the legislation. Their suffering is cruel enough.
Valerie Hussey, C.M., Chair, Board of Directors
Yves Savoie, President & CEO