Criticisms of panel studying assisted suicide unfounded

Hugh Scher

Hugh Scher

Concerns of bias in a panel appointed to lead efforts in dealing with the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic lifting of the prohibition against assisted suicide are unfounded, given that the fundamental issue of whether the practice should be decriminalized has already been decided, says Toronto health and human rights lawyer Hugh Scher.

The panel, appointed by the Harper government, will be led by Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, an international leader in palliative care and the study of dignity at the end of life. His expertise and qualifications are unparalleled anywhere in the world, says Scher.

His fellow panellists are disability rights expert Catherine Frazee, professor emeritus at Ryerson University and former Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Benoit Pelletier, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Ottawa and former Quebec cabinet minister, reports the National Post

Both Chochinov and Frazee were expert witnesses called by the Canadian government to give evidence and reports in the Carter assisted suicide case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. A review of the decisions by all levels of court in the Carter case praise the expertise and evidence led by these two witnesses, which was virtually unchallenged at trial.

The panel will conduct online consultations with Canadians and key stakeholders on possible options to the high court’s ruling and report back to the government by late fall, likely after the October federal election, says the report.

The group will focus on which forms of assisted dying should be permitted — assisted suicide, where a doctor prescribes a lethal dose of a drug the patient takes herself; voluntary euthanasia, or death by lethal injection — eligibility criteria and safeguards to protect a doctor’s “freedom of conscience” not to participate against his or her moral or religious objections, reports the Post. Whether assisted suicide is health care or medical treatment, or whether it should be separated from medical treatment, is a serious issue that will need to be canvassed by the panel in light of feedback from the public and expert stakeholders.

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