Catherine Frazee - “The Vulnerable”: Who Are They?

This article was originally published by the virtual hospice on March 31, 2016.

By Catherine Frazee, OC, D.Litt., LLD. (Hon.) Professor Emerita, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University

We must protect the vulnerable, the Supreme Court told us in its landmark decision establishing a limited right to physician-hastened death in Canada. In my work with the federal External Panel appointed last year to facilitate a national consultation on physician-hastened death, there was wide agreement. On March 1, an impressively diverse coalition of advocacy, faith and medical organizations issued the Vulnerable Persons Standard, a clear articulation of what protections for vulnerable people should include.

There is very little argument that our new regulatory scheme for hastened death must build in safeguards to protect the vulnerable. But what exactly does this much-repeated phrase mean? Who is vulnerable, and why?


To be vulnerable, quite simply, is to be without defence.

For some persons – infants, toddlers, persons with extensive and severe impairments – vulnerability may be intrinsic to their condition of life. Without muscle to flee or resist, without words to request or refuse, without art or philosophy to reinvent or transcend, such persons are nearly fully at the mercy of others.

Yet even in these most seeming absolute expressions, vulnerability presents itself by degrees. The infant born in Oshawa in 2016 shows herself in fact to have robust defenses, compared to the infant born simultaneously in Aleppo, Syria. Likewise today’s toddler with Down syndrome from Kamloops is doubtless far less vulnerable than was her counterpart in Hadamar, at the peak of Nazi rule in 1941.

Vulnerability is as much a matter of context as it is of personal condition. In this way, for each and every one of us throughout life, vulnerability is situational, experienced when our defenses are stripped away.

Link to the full article

Canadian government will not seek advice from federal panel on assisted dying

Media Release

The Canadian Press reported on November 14 that the new federal Liberal government will not be seeking advice from the federal panel on assisted dying that was appointed by the previous Conservative government. According to the Canadian Press:

A federal panel created in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on assisted death will no longer be asked to make recommendations to the government and will now simply report on its consultations on the issue. 
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott say in a statement that along with the modified mandate, the date for the panel to make its report has been extended by a month to Dec. 15.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) is concerned that the Federal government is planning to follow the recommendations of the one-sided panel that was appointed by the Ontario Provincial government that features Jocelyn Downie, Canada's leading pro-euthanasia academic and Maureen Taylor who describes herself as an advocate of assisted death.

Considering the investment in time and research by the panel and the many groups who presented to the panel on assisted dying and the potential for positive insight from the panel members based on their professional and personal experience EPC finds this decision to be short-sighted and motivated by partisan politics.

The panel was appointed by the previous federal Health and Justice Ministers is composed of Dr Harvey Max Chochinov, the Canada research chair in palliative care at the University of Manitoba who is the chair of the panel, Catherine Frazee, a former co-director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education and a former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Benoît Pelletier, a University of Ottawa law professor and former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister.

The new Liberal government is not forced to accept the recommendations of this panel but it is wrong for them not to consider the recommendations of this excellent panel.

For more information contact Alex Schadenberg at: 519-851-1434 or

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.

Link to the full article

Canadian government consultation on legislative options for Assisted Dying begins

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The consultation website is now online.

On July 17, the Canadian government announced the appointment of an expert panel to examine the Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide decision, to enable groups and individuals to be part of a consultation and to make recommendations to the government concerning legislative options for assisted suicide legislation.

The panel is composed of Dr Harvey Chochinov, a psychiatrist and palliative care specialist, Catherine Frazee, a disability rights leader and former co-director of the Ryerson Institute for disability studies, and Benoit Pelletier, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

The consultation website is now online in English and Francais.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) is urging all of our supporters to "sign up" for the consultation notifications on the main page of the consultation website and entering the required information.

Link to the full article

Canadian government appoints panel to examine euthanasia and assisted suicide

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Alex Schadeneberg

Alex Schadeneberg

Canada's Minister of Justice, Hon Peter MacKay, and Minister of Health, Hon Rona Ambrose, appointed an external expert panel to examine the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

EPC welcomes the external panel and we will urge them to make recommendations that will lead to the protection of every Canadian from euthanasia and assisted suicide.

On February 6, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's laws protecting people from euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Supreme Court gave parliament 12 months to establish new laws. 

Today, Harvey Max Chochinov, the Canada research chair in palliative care at the University of Manitoba was appointed to head the panel while Catherine Frazee, a former co-director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education and the former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and Benoît Pelletier, a University of Ottawa law professor and former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister.

Dr Catherine Frazee

The Justice Ministry press release stated:

The panel will conduct consultations with medical authorities and with interveners in the Carter case to assist the federal government in formulating a legislative response to the Supreme Court's decision. The panel will also consult Canadians, including interested stakeholders, through a public online consultation. The panel will then provide a final report to the Ministers of Justice and Health that outlines its findings and options for a legislative response for consideration by the federal government.

EPC urged the government to appoint a "Commission" and to use the Notwithstanding clause to give us time to effectively legislate on these issues.

EPC will work with its coalition partners to submit a comprehensive response to the external panel. The external panel will report back to the government later this fall.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: 2014 year in review.

Euthanasia - We can live without

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

In 2014 there were many great articles opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide. Here are some of the key articles published from different perspectives in 2014.

People with disabilities oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.
●  January, Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Not Dead Yet UK and the new Director of EPC International wrote an article - Legalizing euthanasia threatens people with disabilities

●  In February, Stephen Drake, the researcher for Not Dead Yet explained how the New Hampshire assisted suicide bill definition of "Terminal Condition" was broad enough to include anyone with a chronic condition.

●  In April, Jim Derksen, a founder of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities wrote an about euthanasia and eugenics - Not Dead Yet.

●  In June, John Kelly, from Second Thoughts wrote - Assisted Suicide: Just Too Dangerous.

●  In July, Baroness Jane Campbell from the UK wrote - Assisted Suicide could lure me to the grave.

●  In October Catherine Frazee wrote - Assisted suicide debate masks disability prejudice.

●  In November, Marilyn Golden from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund wrote -Assisted Suicide is Bad Medicine.

Depression, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

Link to the full article.