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TORONTO -- In the draft bill on medical assistance in dying tabled in Parliament today, the federal government has gone some distance designing a pan-Canadian system that would meet the constitutional obligations the Supreme Court of Canada established in the Carter decision: to ensure right of access to assisted death in exceptional circumstances, and the right of vulnerable persons to be protected in such a system. We are greatly relieved that the drafters of the bill explicitly acknowledged that vulnerable persons must have robust protections from the possible harm of an assisted dying regime. In the preamble to the new bill, we see a clear affirmation of this delicate balance. However, the preamble has little force in law and we remain very concerned that it be matched with mechanisms that will fully deliver on its commitment.
We are also reassured by the government’s decision not to over-step the parameters laid out in both the trial decision and the Supreme Court decision, giving a clear legal definition to what is meant by a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’. By stating that the condition must be a serious one that places the person “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”, and that “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable” it establishes that medical assistance in dying is just that: it is assistance for the dying.
This is as it should be. People who may be suffering with cognitive, psychiatric or neurological conditions which are not in themselves natural causes of death will not be eligible. To have done otherwise would have raised alarming prospects of legal authorization for putting people to death because of mental disability.
The Canadian Association for Community Living was one of the main proponents and supporters of the ‘Vulnerable Persons Standard’ (www.vps-npv.ca), launched to help guide design of the legislation. In the days ahead, we will be studying the bill closely and expect to bring forward amendments to ensure that the bill itself is consistent with the promise of the preamble to protect the vulnerable.
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