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TORONTO, ON - Vulnerable persons are at greater risk as a result of the Alberta Court of Appeal decision authorizing physician assisted death on the basis of a psychiatric condition, if legislated safeguards are not passed by Parliament soon. The Alberta Court argues its decision is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Carter. However, the Supreme Court made clear that its ruling applied only to adults like Gloria Taylor, those who are at or near the end of their lives. The Supreme Court explicitly excluded minors, adults without capacity to consent in the circumstances, those who wish access because of suffering caused by a psychiatric condition, and others vulnerable to being induced to commit suicide.
Physician assisted death where persons have a psychiatric condition is controversial and requires significant safeguards. In any event, psychiatric conditions should not be considered eligible conditions on their own for terminating an adult's life. The Alberta Court's interpretation is at odds with the most informed professional expertise on this matter, including psychiatric experts who appeared before Committees of Parliament studying this issue.
Our plea to Parliamentarians: Don't let vulnerable Canadians down. We believe Bill C-14 is a good start. It gets a reasonable enough balance between access, and protecting people who are vulnerable to being induced to commit suicide. The Supreme Court insisted on this legislative balance. Moreover, the legal framework for assisted death will inevitably be an evolving one. Further study and reform can come later, as litigation inevitably will. Getting a basic law in place to safeguard vulnerable people by June 6 or shortly thereafter must be the priority.
Joy Bacon, President of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), the national voice for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities and their families, said, "In light of the Alberta Court's decision, we urge Parliamentarians to work together to pass Bill C-14. It's not perfect, but its strong preamble sets a compelling and essential legislative objective for safeguarding vulnerable persons." Michael Bach, Executive Vice-President said, "It is important is to pass Bill C-14 and safeguard people who are vulnerable to inducement, coercion or undue influence. We must not let provincial courts design the system by default."
CACL recently released a scan of international evidence on vulnerable persons induced to commit suicide through assisted dying ("Assessing Vulnerability in a system for physician-assisted death in Canada"). Evidence shows that inducement is not hypothetical, and happens in five main ways:
1) because of distorted insight into one's condition and about available options, as a result of a mental health issue;
2) hopelessness arising from self-stigma and negative stereotypes about one's condition;
3) coercion by others who are unable or refuse to meet caregiving needs;
4) psychological pressure resulting from interactions with health professionals; and,
5) lack of access to needed supports, or information about what options might be available.
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