This article was published on December 11, 2014 on the Living with Dignity blog.
It is important that we all speak to our Senators to ask them to vote NO and reject Bill S-225.
Senate Bill S-225 is based on MP Stephen Fletcher's own bills in the House of Commons (C-581 and C-582). While neither C-581 nor C-582 is likely to be reach First reading in the House, Bill S-225 will be debated in the Senate early in 2015. The language on the bill is open to interpretation and opens the door for abuse. Safeguards don't protect people from abuse of euthanasia or physician assisted laws, but this bill is particularly bad news.
It would be easy, although erroneous, to think the so-called safeguards in the bill are solid. A closer look and analysis show significant problems.
Section 3(a) requires people to be 18 years old or more. However, there have already been calls to remove the age limit because it would be discrimination to deny access to euthanasia to younger people.
Illness, disease or disability
Section 3(c) requires people to have been diagnosed by a physician as having an illness, a disease or a disability, including disabilities caused by traumatic injuries. This opens up the door to a wide interpretation of the eligibility criteria. People with non-terminal and non-degenerative condition could be deemed eligible.
Physical or psychological suffering
Section 3(c)(i) requires that the person be enduring physical or psychological suffering that they deem intolerable, and that cannot be alleviated by any treatment acceptable by the person.
This is a highly subjective criterion that cannot be properly evaluated. It would be impossible to use this criterion to deny a request. The statistics out of Oregon show that a very small percentage of people requesting physician assisted suicide do so because of physical suffering. In Belgium, a healthy 70 year old woman was euthanized after she became depressed due to the end of a long-term relationship. In the Netherlands, a 63 year old man was also euthanized because he was depressed and lonely after he retired.
Weakened capacities with no chance of improvement
Section 3(c)(ii) requires that the person is in a state of weakened capacities with no chance of improvement. What does that mean, exactly? Many people with disabilities or elderly individuals meet this criterion.
Section 3(d) requires the person to be of sound mind and fully able to understand the information provided. It is well known that depression is a significant risk factor in requests for euthanasia. In fact someone dealing with depression is 4 times more likely to request euthanasia. The number of euthanasia request granted for psychiatric patients in the Netherlands is growing exponentially.
Section 3(e) requires the person to be acting voluntarily, free from coercion or undue influence. This is another criterion that is impossible to judge. Elder abuse is a growing problem and generally under-reported.
Section 13 requires physicians to report the death of people they provided assistance to die to the Minister of Health within 30 days. As the person is already dead, it is not a safeguard. At best it will serve to gather data. However, no physician would self-report wrong-doing. Such reporting requirements do not guarantee that euthanasias or assisted deaths will be reported. 23% of euthanasias in the Netherlands were not reported. Nearly half of euthanasias in Flanders (Belgium) were not reported.
Canada will not be different and these requirements are not going to protect people very well, nor very long. Regardless of your position on euthanasia and assisted suicide, you should oppose Bill S-225 as it is poorly written and provides no real safeguards.