A bill that lets the patient choose

If an adult is in an intolerable situation who are we to impose our values on them?

Steven Fletcher
Steven Fletcher

Death is inevitable. How we die is not. A lucky few will live a hundred years and die in bed in their home after a productive and loving life. Some people may not live as long but will die on the tennis court or having sex or some other activity that they love. In these cases, the health span matches the life span.

In an ideal world, everyone’s life span would equal the health span and would be measured in three digit years. For everyone who is reading these words it is very likely that there will be a space between your health span and your life span; the gap between is often the dying process.

In Canada we are fortunate to have the freedoms to live essentially how we want to. The empowerment we have as Canadians, however, disappears as we approach death. We have a world class health system that has its problems but provides services to Canadians such as long term care, comfort care and palliative care to most people.

The legislation that I’ve introduced would apply to: “an individual that has been diagnosed by a physician as having an illness, a disease or a disability (including disability arising from traumatic injury) that causes physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to that person and that cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person, or the person must be in a state of weakening capacities with no chance of improvement.”

The individual would have to be over 18, a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident and be cognitive and competent. The bill goes on to set certain tests to ensure these certain requirements are met.

The bill also has provisions to help ensure people who are vulnerable are not eligible and that anyone who could benefit from an individual’s passing is removed from the decision making process; for example an institution who wants to free up a bed, a family member who wants to receive their inheritance and so on. The legislation has very elegant solutions to deal with situations where there may be unscrupulous people in the patient’s life.

The bill is deliberately designed to empower the individual to make the best decision using their own values and ethics and expectation of life. The legislation also forces the “system” to provide for the individual to be educated in all the resources and treatments that are available for someone in their circumstance.

If after going through the process outlined in the legislation, the individual still wishes to proceed with assisted death, he or she must wait 14 days before the procedure is done. If the person becomes incoherent the process stops. If the person is coherent and asks for there not to be assistance in death, the process stops. If the person is in a coma, the process may continue as the patient outlined.

This legislation empowers the individual. What is right for one person may not be for another. Who is to say which person is right? Does it matter? If an adult is suffering, in pain and finding it intolerable with no acceptable medical treatment available, who are we to impose our values on them?

This legislation is only open to volunteers; nobody is forcing anyone to do anything other than fulfill the patient’s wishes. Some doctors may object on principle. Some people may have very high pain tolerance for their own personal reasons and bear the pain and suffer for as long as it takes. Those individuals should not be judged, nor should an individual in exactly the same situation who chooses assistance with their death.

The second bill that I introduced this week would create a commission. The purpose of the commission is to produce public information on physician-assisted death and to support law and policy reform with respect to physician-assisted death .

This bill is intended to allow the first bill to be what I call “a living bill”. As time goes on, knowledge will be gained and the commission will be able to analyze the knowledge gained and help create best practices. Proper reporting leads to proper public policy, and proper public policy includes transparency. We can learn together as Canadians not only on how we live but how we die and why.

At present, people who are bedridden are choosing to starve themselves to death,or morphine drips are upped to lethal doses or people are forced to go underground to have their wishes filled illegally like Sue Rodriguez. This prevented her from having her family around and no doubt the people who helped Sue if caught would have faced severe jail time.

This debate should have happened in Parliament by elected representatives but it is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court by unelected, unaccountable judges. By reading these words on this page you have entered the debate. I encourage people to have this discussion around the dinner table with their family and friends. Mutual education between people only leads to better outcomes.

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher is the sponsor of two private member’s bills dealing with doctor-assisted suicide. He launches a monthly column in Lifestyle 55.

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