In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that medical assistance in dying (MAID) is a legal medical procedure available to patients with grievous, irremediable conditions. The court gave the federal government until June 2016 to respond and pass the appropriate legislation.
It has now been two years since MAID legislation has been in place. The way it has been implemented across the country is uneven. What should have been a transition into a health system providing MAID equitably to patients in need has instead produced a convoluted mess of red tape and serious roadblocks for patients and physicians in different parts of Canada.
Bill C-14 was the Liberals’ response to the Supreme Court’s ruling. It added two additional requirements for receiving MAID that were not included by the Court: that patients must have a “reasonably foreseeable” death and that they must have a terminal illness. In addition to the incredibly vague wording (for example, how close to death is “reasonably foreseeable”?), this piece of legislation does not seem to accord with the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision. If the court believed that terminal illness and being near death should have been requirements of MAID, it would have ruled as such. The tragic result of this legislative overreach is that patients with incredibly painful, incurable conditions who wish to access MAID will be denied the service.
One of the most striking examples of the negative consequences of Bill C-14 is the story of Julia Lamb. Julia is a 26-year old British Columbian with Spinal Muscular Atrophy – a painful, incurable disease. Despite her desire to undergo MAID, Julia was denied access because she was not deemed near death. Despite expressing informed consent for her wish for MAID, the overly restrictive Bill C-14 has prevented her from accessing the procedure. And now Julia must go to court, to get the relief that the Supreme Court granted people like her in its historic ruling.
In December 2016, the federal government commissioned the Council of Canadian Academies to investigate the implementation of medical assistance in dying in reference to three additional issues: “mature minors” (those who are just shy of the legal definition of adulthood); advance requests; and those whose grievous and irremediable condition results solely from mental illness. While the process of consulting experts and collecting evidence is necessary, concerns were expressed as to the impartiality of the panel. On May 2nd, 2017 I voiced concerns to the Minister of Health about the appointment of Dr. Harvey Schipper, a vocal opponent of MAID, as a committee chair on one of the panels. On May 10th, the panel released a statement announcing that Dr. Schipper would step down from his position as committee chair. I hope that the panel’s recommendations, which are expected to be released later this year, respect the previous ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada, and advance the MAID regime’s availability to recognize the flaws of Bill C-14.
In June 2016, a constitutional challenge against Bill C-14 was launched by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. In a legal system that is already overburdened, it is frustrating to see the courts clogged with a lawsuit that should never have been necessary in the first place.
I will be hosting a free town hall at the James Bay New Horizons Activity Centre (234 Menzies Street in James Bay) on June 15 at 7 p.m. to discuss medical assistance in dying with Island Health, the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers, and Dying with Dignity (Victoria Chapter). All are welcome and light refreshments will be served.
Murray Rankin is member of parliament for the Victoria riding.