Canadians in suffering earned the right to an assisted death in June, but too many barriers remain in the way.
Last week, news broke that a dying Vancouver man was denied a peaceful assisted death at St Paul's Hospital and was required to endure a brutal patient transfer to Vancouver General to fufil his constitutional right.
This happened because our government allows entire publicly-funded hospitals to decide a patient's treatment based on the will of a few Bishops instead of the wishes of that patient.
While Ian Schearer was ultimately able to see his choice respected at VGH, not everyone will have that chance. BC spends around $1 billion on religious healthcare institutions and in some communities, a person's only choice is a religious hospital.
To challenge this threat to access, Dying With Dignity Canada has launched a new tool to ask the Government of BC to respect patients' rights.
And make sure to tell Premier Christy Clark that over 70% of British Columbians oppose publicly-funded healthcare institutions being able to refuse to provide treatments on religious grounds.
Catholic hospitals aren't the only threat to access however.
Bill C-14 was the government's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous Carter decision. That ruling said that medial assistance in dying should be available to competent, consenting adults with "a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual." Yet Bill C-14 callously restricted access to those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable."
Now, a new e-petition is calling on the federal government to remove that restriction.Read more
Editor's note: This editorial was originally published in the journal Bioethics under a Creative Commons license. It's a follow up to an article first published by Udo Schuklenk in May 2015 and responded to by Christopher Cowley in December 2015. Unfortunately, both of those articles are behind paywalls.
The debate is over whether doctors should be able to refuse to provide certain legal medical procedures, such as medical assistance in dying or abortions. Schuklenk argues that the rights of patients and a doctors' professional obligations should outweigh any individual moral attitudes. The BC Humanist Association made a similar (albeit significantly more abridged) argument in our submission to the Parliamentary committee that studied medical assistance in dying earlier this year.
By Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk
In an article in this journal, Christopher Cowley argues that we have ‘misunderstood the special nature of medicine, and have misunderstood the motivations of the conscientious objectors’.1 We have not. It is Cowley who has misunderstood the role of personal values in the profession of medicine. We argue that there should be better protections for patients from doctors' personal values and there should be more severe restrictions on the right to conscientious objection, particularly in relation to assisted dying. We argue that eligible patients could be guaranteed access to medical services that are subject to conscientious objections by: (1) removing a right to conscientious objection; (2) selecting candidates into relevant medical specialities or general practice who do not have objections; (3) demonopolizing the provision of these services away from the medical profession.Read more
On Friday, Bill C-14 received Royal Assent and became law in Canada. The bill was the government's response to the Carter ruling that struck down Canada's prohibition on medical assistance in dying.
While the bill provides important safeguards to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and family members who assist a suffering Canadian to die with dignity, the bill's eligibility criteria will limit access to those whose "natural death is reasonably foreseeable."
Senators, arguing that this restriction was neither compassionate nor constitutional, had removed the phrase in an amendment. However, the Liberal Government used their majority in the House of Commons to reintroduce it and a majority of Senators then agreed to maintain the restriction.
The final law does include Senate amendments that restrict family members from helping if they were a beneficiary of the person requesting an assisted death and to force doctors to inform patients of all palliative care options before providing an assisted death.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
The sky did not fall in the two weeks that Canada had no law criminalizing medical assistance in dying. Instead, people in suffering were able to start frank conversations with their medical team about their end of life options.
While this new law should help to reassure the overly conservative parts of the medical community, it remains problematic and will undoubtedly be challenged in court very soon. The eligibility criteria are vague and arbitrary and the amendments Parliament did accept could make it harder for people to be with a dying family member. Further issues of access, particularly in publicly-funded religious hospitals, remain.
The government has promised further consultations on expanding access to medical assistance in dying and the secular and compassionate majority must hold them to that.
Half of British Columbians strongly oppose granting "conscientious objections" to healthcare institutions
A new poll has found that 71% of British Columbians do not support publicly-funded healthcare institutions being able to refuse to provide services like physician-assisted dying or abortion on religious grounds. A majority – 52% – are strongly opposed.
A number of healthcare institutions operated by religious groups, including Providence Healthcare in Vancouver and St Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox, have said that they would not provide medical assistance in dying, which became legal in Canada on June 6.
The poll was commissioned by the BC Humanist Association and conducted by Insights West. The BC Humanists have said that religious opposition by healthcare institutions threatens access to medical assistance in dying. The group has calculated that nearly $1 billion in public funding went to healthcare institutions operated by religious organizations in BC in 2015.Read more
As of today, suffering Canadians may request assistance to end their life with dignity.
Last year, in its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down our country's prohibition on physician-assisted dying and spelled out clear and compassionate guidelines for when an individual may request an assisted death.
The Court delayed its ruling to give Parliament time to enact a new law meeting those guidelines. Parliament's answer is Bill C-14, which is only now being considered by the Senate. That Bill is considered by many experts to be unconstitutional.
This means that the Court's ruling stands as law and any individual that meets the criteria provided by the Court has choice in death.Read more
The BC Humanist Association today submitted its brief to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing and proposing amendments to the government's draft medical assistance in dying bill. The brief contains a list of amendments to the bill that would restore the "patient-centred approach" promoted by the Special Joint Committee's report.
The bill has been widely criticized for failing to meet the criteria established by the Supreme Court ruling that struck down Canada's ban on physician-assisted dying. The Court has given Parliament until June 6 before its ruling comes into effect.Read more
The Federal Government today tabled legislation that would give some Canadians the right to choose an assisted death.
While the bill adopts some of the important provisions that the BC Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, the BC Civil Liberties Association and other advocates of choice in dying have called for, the government took a more narrow approach to the issue.Read more
The BC Humanist Association has written to all British Columbia Members of Parliament calling for legislation that ensures patients have access to compassionate end of life options.
After studying legislative options for physician-assisted dying, a Parliamentary committee recommended an approach that puts patients first. The BCHA is calling on MPs to adopt these recommendations and ensure that healthcare institutions that receive public funding are required to provide choice in dying.Read more
Victoria writer and founder of the Right to Die Society of Canada John Hofsess was fortunate to be able to chose the time and manner of his own death and to die surrounded by his friends.
Hofsess' article “By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead” was published on Toronto Life a few minutes after he died.
Between 1999 and 2001, I helped eight people die, including the poet Al Purdy. Now, as I prepare to take my own life, I’m ready to tell my story.Read more
In their report to Parliament, MPs and Senators on the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying have presented a set of bold recommendations to allow suffering Canadians to choose a medically-assisted death.
The report is already receiving praise from organizations in support of choice in dying, including the BC Humanist Association and Dying With Dignity Canada.Read more