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A recent Quebec court decision could signal major changes to the medical assistance in dying (MAID) law in Canada. In the September 2019 Truchon
decision, the court struck down the requirement that a person’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable” to be eligible for MAID.
The decision won’t take effect until March 2020, to allow the government to put a new provision in place if it so chooses.
Disability advocates are gravely concerned about this change. They believe people with severe disabilities, who may already have trouble accessing the medical and social supports they need, are likely to feel more pressure to end their lives.
During the election most party leaders stated their intentions to soften the MAID law and expand the Quebec decision across the country.
The EFC is dismayed that this decision could lead to the removal of a key safeguard. The EFC is strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. We urged the government in 2016, if it was going to go ahead with legislation, to include the strictest possible safeguards and limits.
“Reasonably foreseeable” is not a precise term, but at least it made clear the intention of the law that a person had to be dying in order to be eligible for MAID. That clause helped to provide needed protection for vulnerable Canadians.
When the MAID legislation was originally debated, many Canadians expected the new law would be limited to individuals who were dying. However, removing the “reasonably foreseeable” requirement will end that limitation.
The “reasonably foreseeable” requirement had also been the subject of another court challenge over in British Columbia. Julia Lamb, a 25-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association launched a challenge days after the MAID law passed in June 2016.
But in September 2019 an expert witness for the federal government, who was defending the law, submitted a report stating that “reasonably foreseeable” was flexible enough wording that Julia Lamb would already be considered eligible for MAID by some medical professionals.
The report explained Julia Lamb’s life would be at risk if she refused medical care, and if she stated an intention to refuse medical care that would be enough for some MAID providers to consider her eligible for MAID.
We expect changes to be proposed soon after Parliament resumes on December 5. The proposed changes are likely to remove the requirement that a person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” so that the federal law aligns with the Quebec court decision. It’s also possible that a proposed change may expand who is eligible for MAID, for example, by removing the requirement that a person must be able to consent at the time of their death and allowing MAID by advance request.
An amended law on MAID may also expand eligibility to mature minors or people who have solely psychological illness.
If the law is going to change, it is important to ask MPs to include the strongest possible safeguards and limit who is eligible for MAID. This may also be the time to ask MPs to include strong, specific conscience protection so health care workers are not compelled to be involved in MAID against their deeply held beliefs.
How you can be involved
Also in this issue: EFC Ambassadors share EFC message across Canada; Vice-President appointed to international work; Peace and Reconciliation Network available to help Canadian churches; The EFC gathers Canadian presidents in Montreal; Updating you on Canada’s most immediate issues; Note from Executive Vice-President David Guretzki; Hearts and hands: Insights from the work of the EFC's Bill Fledderus; and more.
- Pray for wisdom, grace and courage for our elected leaders.
- Write the prime minister and your local MP to ask that any changes preserve the strongest possible safeguards and eligibility limitations, as well as strong, specific conscience protection for health care workers. For tips, see www.TheEFC.ca/Engagement2019 and www.TheEFC.ca/MAID.
- Pray for protection for vulnerable Canadians, and consider reaching out to neighbours who may need support, such as people living with disabilities, in long-term care or in a hospice/palliative care program.