This article was published in the Ottawa Citizen on June 19.
On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s assisted suicide law, giving Parliament 12 months to replace the law. That ruling opened the door to physician-assisted suicide.
But this is an incredibly complex topic, one fraught with moral and ethical issues.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, wonders how the Supreme Court of Canada thought it possible to pass a new law on such a difficult topic within a 12-month time frame.
“Considering the complexity of the issue — the reality is that we are talking about a life and death issue — and that there will be a federal election in October, it will simply not be possible for Parliament to fill the legislative gap in 12 months,” said Schadenberg.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is calling on Justice Minister Peter MacKay to establish a commission to make clear recommendations on a legislative framework. The Coalition is urging the government to use the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution of Canada to gain the necessary time to pass a new assisted suicide law. The Coalition is also concerned that clear language must be used in the future assisted suicide law in order to protect people from euthanasia.
Schadenberg is warning Canadians about the effect of legalizing euthanasia upon our culture, reflecting what has occurred in other countries. He referred to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 19, 2015) indicating that 4.6 per cent of all deaths in Belgium in 2013 were euthanasia. What is even more concerning is that another 1.7 per cent of all deaths (or more than 1000 deaths) in Belgium in 2013 were hastened without explicit request, an act that is illegal in that country.
Further to that, euthanasia in Belgium has become accepted for psychological reasons, and many concerning cases have occurred where euthanasia for this reason was employed. For instance, in December 2012, a depressed woman died by euthanasia, even though her family was not informed of the impending death and her psychiatrist had opposed it. In April 2014, a 20-year-old woman formally complained that her mother died by euthanasia for psychological reasons without receiving any treatment for her depression.
Further cases include those of Nathan Verhelst, who asked for euthanasia for psychological reasons after a failed sex change operation, and those of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, who asked for euthanasia for psychological reasons because they feared becoming blind.
In March, the chairman of the federal euthanasia commission in Belgium admitted that 50 to 60 euthanasia deaths are done on psychiatric patients each year.
There has never been an attempted prosecution for abuse of the euthanasia law in Belgium.
Similar cases are occurring in the Netherlands, where a report indicated there were 42 euthanasia deaths for psychiatric reasons and 97 euthanasia deaths for people with dementia in 2013.
“Euthanasia deaths are increasing by 15 per cent annually in the Netherlands and even more in Belgium,” said Schadenberg. “Considering the expanded reasons for euthanasia in these two countries, it is incumbent upon the Parliament of Canada to bring forth legislation that uses precise language and definitions, and enables protection in law for all Canadians on this vital issue.”