April 21, 2020
The Hon. David Lametti
Minister of Justice
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
Dear Minister Lametti,
We trust that you and your loved ones are staying well in these challenging times. Please be assured we are praying for you and for your colleagues as your government leads Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are writing out of deep concern and opposition to Bill C-7. We urge you to reflect carefully on the implications of removing the requirement that a person’s death be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ in order to be eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide. This is a watershed change that will have significant implications for vulnerable Canadians, particularly Canadians with disabilities.
A woman with disabilities shared with us recently that people with disabilities feel their lives are on the line with this legislation. We echo the points raised by the disability community in an open letter to you last October,
Without the equalizing effect of the end-of-life criterion, which guarantees that the common thread between all persons who access an assisted death in Canada is that they are all dying, persons with disabilities will be able to gain access ultimately because they have a disability.
With the proposed changes to the law, people living with a non-life threatening disability or illness would have access to hastened death, solely because of their disability or medical condition. The law must protect Canadians, and particularly those who are vulnerable, from succumbing to feelings of despair and from coercion or pressure to end their lives. Removing the protection of an end-of-life requirement is not a benefit, but rather a failure to provide equal protection to all Canadians. It is the duty of Parliament to enact legislation that will not discriminate against Canadians with disability or chronic illness, nor put their lives in danger.
Although the lower court in Quebec struck down the requirement of ‘reasonably foreseeable’ death in the Truchon decision, Parliament can and should re-introduce an end of life requirement in Bill C-7. If there are concerns about the constitutionality of such a requirement, the government could submit legislation for reference to the Supreme Court.
We are also very concerned that Bill C-7 would remove some safeguards for those whose death is foreseeable. The safeguards of a 10-day reflection period, the ability to consent at the time of death and two independent witnesses are crucial to mitigate the risk of wrongful death.
The removal of these key safeguards is not consistent with the guidance of the Supreme Court in Carter, which agreed with the trial judge’s assessment of the need for “stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced.” (para. 105)
We urge you not to relax the stringent limits put in place in the 2016 legislation. In fact, the court in Truchon deliberately did not address other aspects of the legislation, such as advance directives. At a minimum, these critical safeguards should be retained and reviewed as part of the study mandated by the legislation passed in 2016.
Further, it is unconscionable that as a society we would proceed with expanding access to hastened death when we have not addressed the lack of widely accessible, quality palliative care, mental health care and supports, or supports to those living with disability. It should not be easier to end your life in Canada than it is to receive assistance to live.
The government consultations held earlier this year were very brief – the online consultation was open for only two weeks and was premised on the removal of reasonably foreseeable death. It is unclear whether members of the disability community were invited to participate in some of the roundtable discussions, but it is clear that key organizations have very real concerns for their lives and safety which have not been adequately addressed in Bill C-7.
As a Christian community that upholds human life and dignity, we remain opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, we will continue to advocate for the strongest possible safeguards to minimize the risks to vulnerable Canadians in any system that legalizes these practices. This respect for life and care for the vulnerable motivated our intervention before the Supreme Court in Carter and has prompted our participation in the legislative consultations every step of the way.
In these matters of life and death, the presumption must always be in support of life. It is essential that the government affirm the equal value of every person’s life, regardless of health or ability, and maintain stringent safeguards to protect Canadians from harm or coercion.
Director of Public Policy
Author: Julia Beazley