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ALBAS: Medical assistance in dying bill tabled

Dan Albas, member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla.
Image Credit: Contributed
April 21, 2016 - 10:52 AM

Editor,

In two previous MP reports I have requested feedback from citizens on the subject of medical assistance in dying in response to the Supreme Court decision that in effect has legalized this action pending legislation from Parliament. Recently the Liberal Government introduced that legislation and as this has been a subject that has generated a significant amount of feedback from citizens I would like to summarize Government Bill C-14 technically known as “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)”.

The goal of this act is to enable doctors as well as nurse practitioners and those who assist them to help eligible citizens end their lives without facing criminal charges for doing so. This naturally raises the question who is deemed to be an “eligible citizen” for the purposes of this legislation. The criteria includes a number of factors: A citizen must be at least 18 years old who has made a voluntary request with informed consent to be considered eligible for medically assisted dying. In addition this same citizen must have a serious and incurable disease or disability that is in an advanced state and is considered irreversible. It would also need to be demonstrated that the disease or disability in question was at a stage causing intolerable suffering with death being the most reasonably foreseeable outcome.

How would this work in practice? A citizen who believes they meet the criteria above can make a written request to receive medical assistance in dying provided this request is signed by two independent witnesses. If a citizen is unable to write this request because of a disability a representative can do so on that persons behalf provided two independent witnesses verify the request.  Once the request has been submitted two independent doctors or nurse practitioners would then evaluate the request for eligibility. During this time a mandatory 15 day reflection period would be in effect unless death or a loss of capacity was imminent. Understandably a citizen could withdraw this request at any time during this 15 day period.

It is also proposed that Provincial health authorities would maintain confidential lists of doctors and nurse practitioners who are willing to participate with assisted suicide that would be made available to citizens seeking this assistance. The bill does not propose any mandatory language as it recognizes that there are medical professionals who do not support medical assistance in dying and may decide not to offer these services. It is further proposed that the Federal Government will collect and analyze data on the use of this program although it is unclear what information would be made public.

My thoughts? The bill clearly would enable medical assistance in dying as directed by the ruling from the Supreme Court. While there are some safeguards proposed ultimately the bill makes certain assumptions that an individual requesting medically assisted suicide is not coerced or otherwise requesting this assistance out of quilt or obligation solely based upon two individuals witnessing the request. This process is somewhat concerning as there is little consideration shown for those who may be suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition such as depression.

Although I have other concerns ultimately our Supreme Court has made this ruling and to date the majority of the feedback that I have received from citizens has been supportive.  My vote on Bill C-14 will be guided by the input that I receive from the citizens of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola on this topic. Given that the consensus so far has been largely supportive this is the direction that I am following while I continue to actively consult with local citizens.

I welcome your comments, questions or concerns on this or any matter before the House of Commons and can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
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