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.
The petition was initiated by BC Humanist Association Honorary Member Gary Bauslaugh and sponsored by Victoria MP Murray Rankin.
The Supreme Court of Canada, the body that is legislatively-designated to determine the meaning of our Constitution, made it clear in its February 2015 ruling that a competent adult with a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering must be given access to an assisted death.
The Liberal Party of Canada decided instead, in Bill C-14, to limit eligibility for assisted death to those for whom their natural death is reasonably foreseeable.
The legislation not only falls far short of the progressive recommendations of the 2016 special parliamentary committee, in at least this one section it violates the Supreme Court of Canada’s determination of eligibility for assisted death. This restriction, that a natural death be reasonably foreseeable, represents a violation of the Supreme Court’s decision, which referred to competent adults, not some competent adults.
We are left to speculate: Why did the Liberals betray the hopes of millions of Canadians, including many who risked their own freedom to help the suffering, with egregiously inadequate end-of-life legislation?
The BC Civil Liberties Association is leading a constitutional challenge on this issue, and will almost surely win. But because of that inevitability, this e-petition asks the government to save a lot of time and money and, more importantly, spare a lot of human suffering by changing the law now.
It will have to do so eventually anyway.
In March, the federal government argued in an Alberta court that the Supreme Court's decision could be narrowed to those near death. The Alberta Court of Appeal threw out the government's argument saying it "is not supported by the words of the decision as a whole, nor by the principles articulated in the decision."
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
Through their inaction, our federal and provincial governments are exacerbating the suffering of Canadians.
In BC, religious hospitals are overruling the Supreme Court of Canada and allowing Bishops to dictate the choices of British Columbians.
This flies in the face of a public consensus that our publicly-funded hospitals should put patients first.
Meanwhile, through its needlessly restrictive law, the federal government is denying people their Charter right to an assisted death. In the debates in the spring, no one was asking for medical assistance in dying to be restricted to those about to die.
From the data so far, the overwhelming majority who've asked for an assisted death have been denied because this cruel provision.
Already too much money has been spent on this fight by the government and those individuals and organizations fighting for justice and choice. The law must change.
Bauslaugh has long supported the right to die with dignity and spoke about the history of the assisted dying campaign in Canada at a BCHA meeting in September.