A last resort, not a whim

The similarities between the pro-dying with dignity and the pro-reproductive choice movements, as well as the opponents to both movements, are striking.

The key issue for both pro movements – whether at the beginning of the life arc or the end – is choice. Do we have a legal right to make choices about our own bodies?

In the case of reproductive choice, the issue was whether women had the right to choose if and when to reproduce. Should we have access to contraception (only legal in Canada since 1969)? Should we be able to terminate an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy (only decriminalized in Canada since 1987)? (Note, however, that in many parts of Canada, abortion is still not available, creating serious inequities for women who live in rural and remote – and even not so remote – parts of the country.)

In the case of medically assisted dying, the issue is, once again, choice. Can I determine when I would like to die? In Canada, since 2016, the answer to that question is, in limited circumstances, yes.

Pro-life, pro-gun and anti-MAiD

Opponents to both beginning and end of life pro-choice movements can sound eerily similar.

Both engage in fear-mongering rhetoric and hyperbole. Many of those who oppose the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy talk about fetuses as babies or even children (sometimes using the phrase pre-born children) , describing abortion as murder and those who perform this legal medical procedure as murderers.

British Columbia’s Angelina Ireland is opposed to medically assisted dying. Strongly opposed. Here is some of what she had to say about MAiD in a recent talk at a Bringing America Back to Life conference in Cleveland (described as one of the largest gatherings of the Christian right in the world):

“I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a Catholic, I’m pro-life, I’m pro-family and I’m pro-gun. . . “

She warned the audience that they needed to stop MAiD “before they compel you to kill your neighbours and your family – because that’s where we are.” Ireland claimed that, in Canada, the legislation has unleashed the “dawn of the death industry” and that a teenager who has just broken up with her boyfriend could access a medically assisted death.

Unfortunately, for the citizens of Delta, B.C., she is the president of the Board of Directors of the hospice there and is fighting to ban MAiD for any of its residents who might want it.

Bill C-7

In February, the federal government introduced Bill C-7 to expand the scope of MAiD to some extent. It proposed to:

  • repeal the requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable” before someone can access MAiD
  • permit MAiD where death is reasonably foreseeable and the person has asked and been approved for medical assistance to die, but has since lost the capacity to consent
  • repeal the 10-day reflection period

Still not permitted would be MAiD where the sole underlying condition is mental illness, which is not considered to be a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, and situations where the person seeking MAiD is under the age of 19. And, Bill C-7 did not propose allowing people to prepare advance directives permitting MAID later when they no longer have the capacity to consent.

While it would not have gone far enough, it would have moved us several steps in the right direction.

That darn pandemic!

Enter COVID-19. Bill C-7 is now stalled at second reading. On June 11, Justice Minister David Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu issued a joint written statement:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges, including the disruption of the current parliamentary session. While this legislation remains a priority for the government of Canada, the realities of the pandemic have unfortunately rendered it impossible to advance Bill C-7 through the parliamentary process.”

Helen Long, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada commented at the time:

“We know that the pandemic has created challenges across the country. And we’re disappointed to know that some Canadians will continue to suffer intolerably because of their inability to access their constitutional right to MAiD. It’s crucial that the government make this legislation, as well as the five-year review of MAiD, a priority when it resumes in September.”

Time for action

Just because the government is not addressing Bill C-7 right now doesn’t mean we can’t. If you support the Bill, sign DWD’s petition. Read DWD’s argument that the legislation doesn’t go far enough and write to your MP, the Justice Minister and the Health Minister about what you think.

As 27-year-old Ernest Frederiksen, who lives with severe fibromyalgia, wrote:

“Whose body is this?/ Who owns my life?/ My reasoned choice you dismiss,/ Political battles instead twist the knife . . . / When will I be set free? . . ./ How long must I fight? . . . / To end the pain is my only wish . . . / Continuing down this road is the worst of my fears . . . / My shattered heart cannot cope./ I am ready to die . . ./ But that does not matter./ My life is left for politicians to decide.”

One thought on “A last resort, not a whim

  1. Dear Pamela,

    While I agree that anyone of consent has a right to decide for themselves, what their body is willing to endure, to decide to leave ( and I believe this fiercely) because of systemic assaults on children, I also believe that youth must be protected. Also, anyone who is under power of attorney, this creates unreasonable risk for corruption.
    Having volunteered in the public sector I have seen first hand the many corrupt individuals working for large salaries in Canadian systems. When they ‘fire themselves’ they have become uncomfortable. They have seen some of what they deliver.
    In life choice, this is not alterable. Therefore, a calm and not rushed wording of law is essential.

    Sincerely,

    Kelly Winsa

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