Millroy: Assisted Dying Bill Goes a Little Further


Some people thought the assisted dying law passed by the House of Commons in 2016 went too far; others didn’t think it went far enough.

I was one of the latter.

I saw the law being overly narrow in that it restricted medically-assisted death to mentally sound adults over the age of 18 who had a “serious and incurable illness, disease or disability” and faced almost imminent death.

The imminent death part was what got me.

People could be suffering intolerably but unless death was “reasonably foreseeable” they would not be covered.

I thought that was ridiculous

However, I was in favour of the bill because I saw it as a start.
I wrote at the time:

“For myself, I don’t want to live if it is only going to be a life of intolerable suffering or I am diagnosed as going to lose my mental facilities. I want a say as to how I go out.

“However, my suggestion at the moment is to get the deed done, to get physician-assisted suicide into law. The legislation can be brought back for tweaking as time goes on, with more thought being able to be put into play.

Well, that has happened. Another bill is now before the House of Commons that goes a bit further than the first one.

But it has an approaching deadline.

A Quebec court last year found that the requirement that patients can only get medical help in dying if their natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” was unconstitutional. The ruling technically applies only in Quebec but the government did not appeal it and any amendments to the federal law, which must be passed by Dec. 18, will apply across the country.
The amended legislation requires that the person requesting medical assistance in dying is fully informed and has given “serious consideration to reasonable and available treatment options,” a government statement said.

The legislative changes also introduce a waiver of final consent that exempts a person receiving a medically assisted death from having to give final consent immediately prior to the procedure being administered.

That waiver will be available for people whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable, those who have been assessed and approved for a medically assisted death or those who are at risk of losing decision-making capacity before their chosen date to die.

Medical professionals are also required to discuss with the patients all available means to relieve their suffering and must confirm that they have seriously considered alternative treatments.

These assessments must take a minimum of 90 days, unless a loss of mental capacity is fast approaching.

I don’t see the need for the 90-day minimum. In fact, I don’t see the need for any minimum.

I don’t see why an assessment would take 90 days or beyond.

The waiver of the requirement that a person must consent a second time to the procedure, the second one just prior to it being applied, is one of the changes I find very important.
It gives peace of mind to people who have requested the procedure and been approved as they will no longer have the fear of being rejected if they are unable to consent a second time.

According to a CBC story, that was the dilemma dramatically illustrated by Audrey Parker, a Halifax woman with terminal breast cancer that had spread to her brain. She pleaded with the government to amend the law but eventually chose to die with medical assistance in the fall of 2018, earlier than she wanted, rather than risk losing the capacity to give last-minute consent.

The story said the second consent requirement had also resulted in some people losing their right to an assisted death while others had forgone needed pain medication for fear that it would impair their capacity to give the second consent.

It was that thought that worried a lot of us who wanted the option of assisted dying if we found ourselves in a similar situation. We wanted to be able to make the decision and have that decision hold until we either needed it or called it off.

A lot of religious people are against assisted suicide and yet they are OK with the death penalty. I have never been able to put that together.

I don’t think anyone should be condemned to a period of intolerable suffering as they approach the door that leads out.

I don’t believe a higher power would want that either.

Justice Minister David Lametti wants opposition help and co-operation to get the medical assistance in dying bill passed by the Dec. 18 deadline.

During debate on the bill, Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the government should have appealed the ruling rather than trying to rush legislation through Parliament to meet the court-imposed deadline.

He also criticized the government for going further than the ruling required to ease some restrictions on eligibility for an assisted death.

This led Bloc Quebecois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe to question whether the Conservatives are being pressured to oppose the bill by faith-based lobby groups — a charge Cooper denied.

In any event, I have no doubt the bill will be passed as Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has allowed his members a free vote.

This may not be the end of amendments to this legislation but as long as they continue to improve on it, I will be for it.