Dr. Jonathan Reggler of Courtenay is a proponent of doctor-assisted death.

Introduction of assisted death bill to House of Commons sparks debate

Local proponent cites many areas of concern

  • Apr. 22, 2016 7:00 p.m.

Scott Stanfield

Record staff

Opponents see it as reckless but others consider the proposed Bill C-14 legislation (doctor-assisted death) to be overly restrictive.

Dr. Jonathan Reggler, a Courtenay practitioner, is of the latter opinion.

“What appears to have happened is that the powerful lobbying groups, who were never happy with the idea of assisted dying in the first place, have attempted and partially succeeded in making it much more restrictive in terms of who would be able to access it,” Reggler said. “What I think is to be hoped is that in committee and in the Senate, they will recognize that in fact the bill is too restrictive…They’ve left people out who ought to be allowed to ask for a physician-assisted death.”

Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, has asked MPs to reject the bill to “create exemptions from the offences of culpable homicide.

“It is sad that our government is now treating precious life so flippantly to allow doctors, nurses and pharmacists to kill people, even without the consent of the patient or the person’s family,” McVety said in a news release. “This legislation is dangerous, reckless and could lead to horror.”

If the legislation becomes law, doctor-assisted death will be restricted to mentally competent adults with a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability.

Bill C-14 aims to give a choice to adults who are ‘suffering intolerably’ and for whom death is ‘reasonably foreseeable.’ The legislation also intends to allow doctors and nurses to provide assistance without risk of criminal charges.

Reggler is concerned that the addition of certain requirements have turned it into a bill about providing physician-assisted dying only in the case of terminal illness. The legislation does not cover illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, which Reggler says are unbearable conditions but aren’t killing the sufferer at the moment.

He questions the meaning of a ‘reasonably foreseeable’ death. One problem is a lack of an actual prognosis.

“It’s going to make patients uncertain as to whether or not they can ask in the first place, and it’s going to make doctors uncertain as to whether or not it’s something they can legally provide for patients in certain circumstances. Uncertainty in an area like this is not a good idea.”

Reggler notes other areas of concern about the law, namely mature minors, dementia and psychiatric illness. The latter is not in the bill, though the parliamentary committee has recommended its inclusion.

“I think the concern was you might get a slightly unhappy, competent teenager who requests physician-assisted dying and he finds a couple of doctors who will do it, and that is utter nonsense. That is not what this is about. We’re talking about severe, unrelenting mental health issues.”

In Holland, where it is allowed for mental illness, Reggler said very few requests are permitted for physician-assisted dying.

“It isn’t just about terminal illness,” he said. “It is about dementia and not wanting to end up for years and years incompetent, poor quality of life in a long-term care home. This bill doesn’t allow it. That is a mistake, in my opinion.”

Reggler has been lobbying to ensure the bill applies to hospitals across the board. He is affiliated with St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Comox, which does not support his stance because it follows Catholic Health Care Ethical Guidelines.

The bill needs to be studied further before the House votes on it. It must also clear the Senate before it becomes law.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada lifted a ban on physician-assisted dying on the grounds it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

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