Thursday, March 17, 2016

Harold Albrecht: Physician Assisted Suicide Op-ed

This article written by Harold Albrecht and published on his website.

When I learned that I would be sitting as an alternate member of the committee created to study Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) I immediately felt the full weight of the responsibility that has been given to me as I serve the constituents of Kitchener-Conestoga for a fourth term.

Let me say at the outset that I do not support PAS in any shape or form. Each of us has a worldview shaped and influenced by many factors. My worldview is shaped by my family experiences, my education, opportunities to serve in my community, opportunities to observe many cultures, and is most profoundly shaped by my faith. I believe that every human life has intrinsic dignity and value, regardless of perceived disability or deformity or of perceptions of being “a burden”. So I cannot support any legislation that the government puts forward that will in any way devalue human life.

That being said, the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the Government must change the criminal code in order to allow for PAS in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada has done this completely rejecting the fact that the elected members of the House of Commons have rejected initiatives to legalize PAS on at least 15 occasions since 1991. Most recently, a bill to allow PAS was rejected in April 2010 by a vote of 59-228. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to create laws but rather to interpret them.

It is my view, that because of the unrealistically short time-frame given to create legislation regarding Physician Assisted Suicide, the committee has rushed to put forward recommendations which if implemented into law, would create a very weak and permissive regime which will not adequately protect our most vulnerable Canadian citizens.

The trial judge of Carter made a point to say that there must be “stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced”. It is now very clear that the Liberal dominated committee report to the government fails to do this! In its one-sided, overly permissive report – which will endanger lives of vulnerable Canadians, there is a lack of any meaningful safeguards. Risks are too great to allow this weak system to be implemented.

In Canada we no longer practice Capital Punishment. The risk of killing one innocent person by way of capital punishment is far too great and I believe that this same principle should apply in the case of PAS.

We can learn from other jurisdictions which have allowed PAS for a period of time. Even with so-called “safeguards”, Belgium has seen a great degree of “mission creep” as the number of cases of PAS has increased dramatically. In Belgium PAS has been legal for over a decade. In 2003 there were 347 cases; in 2015 there were over 2000 cases. Canada’s population is approximately 3 times larger than Belgium, so it’s not inconceivable that we could see up to 6000 cases of PAS in Canada per year. This would be national tragedy!

We as legislators should be doing everything we can to make sure that not one single person dies needlessly. It is with this in mind that I put forward the following, common sense recommendations that I believe will do a far better job at protecting the vulnerable in Canada:

  1. Only Canadian Citizens or Permanent Residents that are over the age of 18 may be able to access Physician Assisted Suicide.
  2. In order to protect against coercion by Doctors, only the patient can initiate a conversation about Physician Assisted Suicide.
  3. In order to make a fully informed decision, quality palliative care must be offered and made readily available for all those considering Physician Assisted Suicide.
  4. The person must be terminally ill in order to access Physician Assisted Suicide.
  5. Persons who request that have a history of Mental Illness must be assessed by a psychiatrist in order to fully assess whether the decision is being made competently and with clear understanding.
  6. There is at least one independent witness at the formal request for Physician Assisted Suicide.
  7. A period of waiting be given that is relative to the prognosis between request of Physician Assisted Suicide and when it is administered.
  8. Advanced directives may not be allowed due to the risk that even one person may be euthanized who otherwise would have changed their mind.
  9. Doctors receive proper training in administering the means of Physician Assisted Suicide and acquire a special license allowing them to administer lethal drugs.
  10. Doctors and Hospitals will not be forced against their conscience to provide or directly refer Physician Assisted Suicide.
  11. A non-physician adjudicating body carry out a prior review in order to assess legality of request and evaluate vulnerability concerns.
  12. Finally, that this legislation be periodically reviewed by Parliament thoroughly analyzing the data collected by the Provincial and Territorial Health departments – allowing for amendments if misuses arise.
I offer these “safeguards” while remaining opposed to PAD. Recognizing that the government of Canada is intent on allowing for PAD — at a minimum I believe that these recommendations must be included if we truly care about the protection of vulnerable Canadians.

Harold Albrecht, MP

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