Senator Betty Unger: Palliative care should be the priority, not physician-assisted dying

This article was published by Senator Unger on February 22, 2016 on her website.

Senator Betty Unger

Senator Betty Unger

"Palliative care should be the priority, not physician-assisted dying.
There is something terribly wrong when a government
does more to guarantee that the living can die,
than to ensure that the dying can live."

- Betty Unger, Alberta Senator

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Criminal Code sections prohibiting physician-assisted suicide violate our Charter rights. After declaring those sections to be invalid, the Court paved the way for assisted suicide and euthanasia to become legal in Canada on June 6, 2016.

This short article does not allow us to list all the concerns raised by the Court’s decision. But the experience of countries with legalized euthanasia clearly demonstrates that the road is fraught with great danger, including hundreds of cases a year where people are euthanized without their consent. Even the Supreme Court itself admitted that the risk of abuse cannot be eliminated. They stated that such risks should be identified and minimized, “through a carefully-designed system imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced”. 

It is this “carefully-designed system” which the Government of Canada is supposed to be in the process of crafting. A joint committee, including both Members of Parliament and Senators, was created last December. It held 12 public meetings, heard from 62 witnesses, and received a multitude of written submissions. From this evidence, the Committee is to “make recommendations on the framework of a federal response on physician-assisted dying that respects the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the priorities of Canadians.”

The Committee’s report is due on February 26th, at which time we will discover what their recommendations are. But from the multitude of statements made and questions asked during public meetings, it appears that the majority of Committee members have little regard for safeguards which might limit access to assisted suicide. Rather than crafting a system that imposes “stringent limits” they seem to be preoccupied with how wide the doors can be flung open. Their primary concern appears not to be safeguards, but guaranteed access.

Link to the full article