Senator Betty Unger: I cannot support (Bill C-14) euthanasia and assisted suicide

This speech was delivered by Senator Betty Unger in Canada's Senate and posted on her website on June 15, 2016

"I do not know what is more alarming:
The fact that we are on the wrong road,
or the fact that we do not recognize it
and that so many are cheering"

Senator Betty Unger
Speaking to Bill C-14

 Senator Betty Unger

 Senator Betty Unger

Honourable Senators, I stand here today as but one voice in this Chamber.

My voice is not as loud or as strong as others in this House.

Yet behind me stand many, by the thousands, who wish their voices could be heard.

I am honoured to be speaking on their behalf.

And today, I hope you do not just hear my voice, but the sound of their voices as well.

These are the many people who weep that Canada’s moral fabric is being destroyed: Who beg us not to underestimate the harm that will follow when our hitherto and dearly held values are being shredded.

These are the elderly and the vulnerable: Who have now been burdened with new fears about visiting their doctor or being admitted to the hospital.

I propose to you that if this legislation was for a clear moral good there would be no need for debate.

It would be resoundingly supported not only in these halls, but in the halls of our nation.

Yet we do not hear such a sound, fellow Senators.

We hear the sound of division, of anger, of disagreement, and of fear.

I do not know which is more alarming:

The fact that we are on the wrong road, or the fact that we do not recognize it and that so many are cheering.

A fundamental tenant is, “Do not kill the innocent. Life is sacred.”

Yet in considering this legislation we have dismissed so many safeguards that the innocent are certain to be killed.

Why we cannot see it, I do not know.

Ignoring the lessons of history we elevate the right of the individual over the good of society.

Canada has had its democratic values uprooted: While in theory, “Parliament is Supreme”, this has become blatantly false.

The Supreme Court has supplanted our elected Parliamentarians by foisting “Judge-made law” on Canadians.

And although Parliaments across the nation could invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure that this decision receives its proper deliberation, they seem unprepared to do so.

Where did we go so wrong, and when will we admit that the Supreme Court has gone too far?

What will it take? On what will they rule next?

Is there no situation under which the parliaments of Canada would be prepared to exercise their right under the Charter and invoke the notwithstanding clause?

I, for one, am not holding my breath, and I believe we are wrong, my friends. This story does not end well.

My only hope is that more and more Canadians are beginning to realize that something is terribly wrong and are rejecting the benign-sounding Medical Assistance in Dying Bill C-14.

Regrettably, far too few parliamentarians are amongst them.

I cannot support this legislation.

I don’t think this has been our finest hour: politics were ever-present. But may the gracious God who gave us life have mercy on us when He takes it in the end.

Advanced Request For Euthanasia?

This article was written by Dr Catherine Ferrier and published on June 10, 2016 by impact ethics in Canadian BioethicsDeath & Assisted DyingLaw & PolicyMental Health

Catherine Ferrier a physician in the Division of Geriatric Medicine of the McGill University Health Centre, and is the president of the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia.

The June 6 deadline for legislation in response to the Carter judgment has come and gone, and our government has yet to adopt a law regulating medical assistance in dying. Too few of us have any idea what we are rushing into.

In the Carter decision the Supreme Court judges stated that the risks associated with physician-assisted death can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards. In contrast, the pressure is on to offer death as a solution for all forms of suffering, available to virtually everyone, including those who fear future suffering or disability.

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs wants Bill C-14 amended to include the recommendation of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, “That the permission to use advance requests for medical assistance in dying be allowed any time after one is diagnosed with a condition that is reasonably likely to cause loss of competence or after a diagnosis of a grievous or irremediable condition but before the suffering becomes intolerable….”

I have spent the last 30 years diagnosing, treating, and caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It takes no special insight to realize that they are the principal intended “beneficiaries” of this recommendation.

Link to the full article

Bill C-14 needs to be amended or defeated

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

The House of Commons passed Bill C-14, the government bill to regulate euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, with a 186 to 137 vote. Canada's Senate will begin to debate Bill C-14. The Senate has the power to amend and/or defeat the bill.

For those who are concerned that Bill C-14 will not be passed by June 6, the date imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada, stop worrying, it will definitely not become law by June 6. Therefore the approach needs to be to amend Bill C-14 in the Senate and if it is not adequately amended, to defeat the bill.

I appreciate the amendments to Bill C-14, An act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying made by the House of Commons

I recognize that conscience protection language has improved and some of the language of the bill was improved, but the most grievous sections of Bill C-14 were not amended. 

If this bill passes, in its current form, the language of Bill C-14 will lead to significant growth of euthanasia. There will be many stories that people will refer to as a "slippery slope." Let me tell you now, these stories will not be the result of a "slippery slope" but rather they will be based on the fact that the language of Bill C-14 allowed these acts to occur.

When I stated that the most grievous sections of the bill have not been amended, here is what I meant:

1. Bill C-14 continues to allow anyone to cause death by euthanasia or assisted suicide. 

• Bill C-14 - Section 227(2) states: No person is a party to culpable homicide if they do anything for the purpose of aiding a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner to provide a person with medical assistance in dying in accordance with section 241.‍2
• Bill C-14 - Section 241(3) states: No person is a party to an offence under paragraph (1)(b) if they do anything for the purpose of aiding a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner to provide a person with medical assistance in dying in accordance with section 241.‍2
• Bill C-14 - Section 241(5) states: No person commits an offence under paragraph (1)‍(b) if they do anything, at another person’s explicit request, for the purpose of aiding that other person to self-administer a substance that has been prescribed for that other person as part of the provision of medical assistance in dying in accordance with section 241.‍2.

No jurisdiction in the world offers legal immunity to anyone who does anything for the purposes of assisted dying. These sections must be struck from the bill.

2. Bill C-14 continues to provide medical practitioners or nurse practitioners total immunity for decisions or acts that contravene Bill C-14.

• Section 241.3 states: Before a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner provides a person with medical assistance in dying, the medical or nurse practitioner must: (a)be of the opinion that the person meets all of the criteria set out in subsection (1)
• Section 227(3) states: For greater certainty, the exemption set out in subsection (1) or (2) applies even if the person invoking it has a reasonable but mistaken beliefabout any fact that is an element of the exemption.

Sections 241.3(a) and 227(3) make it impossible to penalize medical or nurse practitioners for approving or doing an assisted death that contravenes the law, since the bill only requires them to: “be of the opinion” that the person meets all of the criteria of the law. This is the lowest possible standard. Further to that, Bill C-14 provides no effective oversight of the law.

If the person who died was incompetent, the medical or nurse practitioner would only need to state that he/she was “of the opinion” that the person was competent.

The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter approved assisted death based on: “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life.” 

Section 241.3(a), does not assure that the person is competent or clearly consents to the termination of life.  Therefore Bill C-14 does not respect the language of Carter. Unless Section 241.3(a) is amended to ensure that the person meets all of the criteria set out in subsection (1), Bill C-14 will be struck down by a future court decision. 

Bill C-14, in its current form, must be defeated.

Will Johnston: The case against physician-assisted dying

This article was published by the CanadianHealthcareNetwork.ca on June 1, 2016

Discussed: The 'wedge' cases, the language of the debate, the moral culpability of the doctor, and the question of pure autonomy
Dr Will Johnston

Dr Will Johnston

By Tristan Bronca.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition was officially founded in 1998 in response to rising public support for physician-assisted dying. It’s made up of about 2,000 donors—both members and organizations—who began to come together in about 1993 during the Sue Rodriguez case. One of those members is Dr. Will Johnston.

Now the chair of the B.C. chapter of the coalition, the family physician took a strong stance against euthanasia about 22 years ago, when he began writing about it and speaking to high school students and church groups. He also testified opposite euthanasia advocates in the Carter case, which led to the legalization of medically assisted death in Canada. Dr. Johnston spoke with the Medical Post about his concerns with the legislation recently passed through the house of commons, the laws around the world, and why he feels Canada is about to make a dangerous mistake.

Q: Explain the impetus for a coalition of bodies who are opposed to physician-assisted dying.

The bodies that are involved in the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition might not agree on any other issue but they share in common a sense of the huge societal mistake that is being made in euthanasia and assisted suicide. We realize that there is some strength in numbers. Obviously not enough strength to stop the freight train that ended with the Supreme Court being unanimous in its decision—which I think is a troubling sign of the shallowness of the Supreme Court’s reasoning—but nonetheless more power than we would have as individual activists.

Q: Which elements of the proposed federal legislation do you personally find most troubling?

The legislation doesn’t yet allow the euthanasia of children, psychiatric patients, or mentally incapable patients long after they consent, but the preamble to the legislation promises to explore those areas further, which is deeply troubling.

Link to the full article

Bill C-14 needs to be amended or defeated

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

I appreciate the amendments to Bill C-14, An act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying made by the House of Commons

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

I recognize that conscience protection language has improved and some of the language of the bill was improved, but the most grievous sections of Bill C-14 were not amended. 

The House of Commons passed Bill C-14 with a 186 to 137 vote, now the Senate of Canada will begin to debate Bill C-14. The Senate has the power to amend the bill and/or defeat the bill.

For those who are concerned that Bill C-14 will not be passed by June 6, stop worrying, it will definitely not become law by June 6. Therefore the approach needs to be to amend Bill C-14 in the Senate and if it is not adequately amended, to defeat the bill.

If this bill passes, in its current form, the language of Bill C-14 will lead to significant growth of euthanasia. There will be many stories that people will refer to as a "slippery slope." Let me tell you now, these stories will not be the result of a "slippery slope" but rather they will be based on the fact that the language of Bill C-14 allowed these acts to occur.

Link to the full article

Euthanasia for Psychiatric reasons is complicated

Dr K Suno Gaind

Dr K Suno Gaind

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Doctor K Suno Gaind, who is a President of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and an associate professor at the University of Toronto wrote an article that was published in the Globe and Mail on Friday May 27, 2016; where he states that there are no known standards for approving euthanasia for psychiatric reasons.

Dr Gaind questions how euthanasia fits with  - Do No Harm - ethic:

Do no harm. How do we square this guiding tenet with medically assisted death? Which is the greater harm – helping a person to end his life, or allowing continued suffering when he seeks death? 
When it comes to mental illness, it is even more complicated. The 2015 Supreme Court decision emphasized the need to protect the vulnerable from seeking suicide at a time of weakness. Less clear is how we actually do that. 
Mental illness can affect how a person thinks. Depression fuels negative self-thoughts, self-blame, hopelessness and struggling with one’s place in the world. Negative events are dwelt upon and positive ones discounted, with emotional resilience lowered until mundane stresses seem overwhelming. 
This is not to deny the real pain and suffering of mental illness, nor to imply that it invariably compromises clarity of thought. However, in severe cases, teasing apart how illness-based cognitive distortions can influence decision making is a formidable challenge. Heart disease might produce suffering but not necessarily alter thought processes; with depression, people often say they no longer feel or think like themselves. 
This predicament could be moot if suffering continued indefinitely. The value of suicide prevention is not to stay alive with intolerable suffering, but to avoid ending life during a vulnerable period. Unfortunately, cognitive distortions can lead some to decline treatment and seek death, despite the prospect of a healthy future. 

Dr Gaind explains how difficult it is to assess irremediable suffering of psychiatric patients. 

Link to the full article

Andrew Coyne: "extending assisted suicide to children and the mentally incompetent, once derided as “slippery slope” alarmism, is now the next item on the agenda."

Andrew Coyne

Andrew Coyne

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's assisted suicide laws and used language to allow for the legalization of euthanasia. In their decision, the Supreme Court ordered parliament to legislate on the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

One argument employed by the Supreme court in their decision  clearly protected people was that Canada would employ a rigorous set of safeguards that would ensure that abuse of the law does not occur and there is no proof that Canada will experience an expansion of the law, that many of those who intervened against euthanasia and assisted suicide had predicted.

Well, Bill C-14 is not the law yet, the predicted expansion of the law is already occurring.

Andrew Coyne, a National Post columnist exposes the push to expand euthanasia, in his column: Who says the Supreme Court of Canada won't change its mind on assisted suicide - yet again? Coyne points states that:

Advocates of assisted suicide have already served notice they will challenge the legislation in court: because it does not apply to children, or the mentally incompetent; because it defines “grievous and irremediable” to mean, in part, that the patient’s “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable;” even for imposing a 15-day waiting period (since amended to 10). 
They will not rest, in short, until there is an unrestricted right to death on demand.

Coyne explains the inconsistency of the claims for euthanasia expansion:

...it is bizarre to see the same people discover, in a ruling that was expressly limited to mentally competent adults, a right to assisted suicide for children and the mentally incompetent. Bizarre, but not necessarily wrong. It is difficult to say how this Court will rule on any given question, and indeed the Court’s own logic, in finding in the Charter’s “right to life” a right to death, redefined as relief from suffering, would leave it little room to refuse that relief on the basis of age or infirmity, when the case is brought.

If, likewise, the court could reverse its own decision before, it may be persuaded to do so again. The justification offered for overturning Rodriguez was that in the interval the “matrix of legislative and social facts” had changed; that the fear that had justified the law then, namely that assisted suicide would otherwise come to be applied to a wider and wider expanse of the population, had been disproved by experience; or at any rate that whatever might have happened in Belgium and the Netherlands — where the numbers of those euthanized annually has skyrocketed, and where it is now available not only to children and the mentally ill but for the relief of all manner of ailments — could not happen here, on account of our differing “medico-legal cultures.”

In other words, the incremental expansion of the law is already occurring, even before Bill C-14 has passed into law. The hubris of the Court has already proven to be wrong. Coyne ends by stating:

But even if that were true at the time of the court’s ruling, it is clearly not true any more. The notion of extending assisted suicide to children and the mentally incompetent, once derided as “slippery slope” alarmism, is now the next item on the agenda. So it would be entirely open to the Court to find that the matrix of legislative and social facts had shifted again.

I’m not saying it will. But it certainly won’t if it is not asked.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition will never stop working to protect people from euthanasia and assisted suicide, through supports and through the courts.