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Press Release: A Call to Parliamentarians from the National Disability Rights Community 'To Pass Bill C-14 to Ensure Constitutional Rights of Vulnerable Persons'

May 31, 2016 - - Physician Assisted Suicide

Click here for a pdf verision of this Press Release.

Ottawa - Dear Members of Parliament and Senators,

When the Supreme Court of Canada legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in February 2015, it also declared that safeguards must be designed to protect vulnerable persons from harm.

Today, Disabled Canadians, speaking through our national organizations and with our supporters, and on the basis of decades of research, policy analysis and debate, call upon our parliamentarians to ensure that the minimal safeguards contained within Bill C-14 are legislated by June 6.

As Canadians we speak with deep conviction about the need for robust safeguards to protect vulnerable persons. That is because far too many Canadians are vulnerable — particularly those with disabilities. Many of us struggle to access basic supports and services, and to participate in decisions that affect our lives. Most perniciously, we are made vulnerable by the quiet and persistent reminders that our needs are costly and burdensome. At root is the insidious idea that our disabilities are too onerous for society, our families and even ourselves to bear. This is why a system of physician-assisted dying without robust safeguards will jeopardize the lives of vulnerable Canadians.

The threat posed by inducement is real. International research shows that vulnerable persons face added pressure (read CACL's Assessing Vulnerability Report), including: 

1) coercion by others who are unable or unwilling to meet caregiving needs;
2) hopelessness arising from self-stigma and negative stereotypes about one’s condition;
3) distorted insight into one’s condition and available options, as a result of mental health issues;
4) psychological pressure resulting from interactions with health professionals; and,
5) lack of access to needed supports and information about alternate options.

While Bill C-14 does not fully address all the risks of error and abuse that arise from these realities, it does recognize that they exist and that safeguards are essential to protect the lives of vulnerable Canadians. 

Bill C-14 also commits to study outstanding issues concerning advance directives, mature minors, and persons whose sole underlying condition is related to mental health.  Despite this commitment, some argue access on these grounds must be included now, in this very first federal legislative framework.  We respectfully disagree.  Bill C-14 doesn’t take these issues off the table.  It says they merit further study and dialogue. Given the significant risks these issues raise for vulnerable persons, we believe Bill C-14 represents a more prudent approach than a legislative vacuum.

Of course, some have also suggested that there will be no real risk if Parliament fails to act now.  We strongly disagree.  Canadians seeking assisted death will face different rules and medical professionals will have different guidelines depending on their province or territory.

Currently, only five provinces have legislated standards of informed consent, none of which require assessment of vulnerability to undue influence or inducement to commit suicide.

There is only one way to protect the constitutional rights of Canadians in a system for medically-assisted death, and that is by Parliament fulfilling its obligation to establish a pan-Canadian system of safeguards.

We are calling on Parliament to respect the rights of Canadians to both autonomy and to protection of life.  Bill C-14 is not a perfect bill — but it does include at least minimal safeguards that help to strike this balance.

It is important to recall that every Canadian is potentially vulnerable and that every vulnerable Canadian is at risk of inducement in a system without adequate safeguards.  We ask for your support in passing this important legislation.

 

Sincerely,

Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Canadian Association for Community Living
Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
Canadian Down Syndrome Society
Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association
Communication Disabilities Access Canada
DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) Canada
L’Arche Canada
National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)
National Network for Mental Health
People First of Canada
Resources Supporting Family and Community Legacies Inc. (Legacies Inc.)
Association pour l'intégration sociale (Région de Québec)
Community Living Ontario
Inclusion Alberta
Inclusion BC
New Brunswick Association for Community Living
Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living
Nova Scotia Association for Community Living
Prince Edward Island Association for Community Living
Saskatchewan Association for Community
Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities
ARCH Disability Law Centre
Autistic Self Advocacy Network (Winnipeg)
Brockville & District Association for Community Involvement
Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship, UBC
Centre for Independent Living in Toronto
Citizens With Disabilities Ontario
Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador
Community Living Selkirk
Durham Association for Family Respite Services
Fredericton Association for Community Living
Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities Ethics Committee
Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities
PEI Council of People with Disabilities
Toronto Board of Rabbis

Media contacts:
Catherine Frazee – 902-818-2812
Michael Bach, Canadian Association for Community Living – 416-209-7942
Dean Richert, Council of Canadians with Disabilities – 204-951-6273
James Hicks, Council of Canadians with Disabilities – 343-291-1118