During a coast-to-coast tour this week, federal Justice Minister David Lametti has been listening to opinions and concerns about Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) legislation, which is up for review after being legalized in 2016.
He spent Thursday and Friday in Vancouver meeting with families, patients, caregivers, the legal and medical communities, and other individuals and groups.
“We’re hearing from experts, we’re hearing from service providers, doctors and nurse practitioners, we’re hearing from advocates from various corners,” Lametti said en route to the University of British Columbia. “There’s been great discussions. Thoughtful, respectful — a lot of constructive suggestions.”
He said 160,000 Canadians have responded to an online survey as the federal government holds consultations on amendments to the legislation.
“We’ve been asked by the Quebec Superior Court to expand the possibility of Medical Assistance in Dying to not simply those whose death is reasonably foreseeable, but also to others who live with grievous conditions that are causing them suffering,” Lametti said.
“That’s certainly the main challenge, but we’re also asking in the survey a couple of other pointed questions on kinds of advanced directives. The larger question will be done in June, as part of the parliamentary review process.”
Since MAiD has been legalized, more than 6,700 Canadians who were suffering unbearably chose to die peacefully with the help of a physician or nurse practitioner, according to the Department of Justice.
Last September, the Superior Court of Quebec found it was unconstitutional to limit access to MAiD to people nearing the end of life.
The case was brought by two persons living with disabilities. One had cerebral palsy since birth, while the other suffered paralysis and severe scoliosis as a result of poliomyelitis. Practitioners determined they met eligibility criteria for MAiD, with the exception of nearing the end of life.
The court declared the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” criteria in the Criminal Code, and the “end-of-life” criteria in Quebec’s provincial law on MAiD to be unconstitutional.
“The court decision has forced us to make some changes now,” Lametti said. “And because of that we’re also asking a couple of specific questions on two kinds of advanced directives, and then on advanced directives more generally.”
As it stands, MaiD is only available to those 18 and older. It is not available to individuals suffering mental health conditions. Advanced requests are also not allowed.
Will the time ever come when someone can speak on another’s behalf?
“We do see some of it already, even in traditional medicine,” Lametti said. “The decision to withdraw medical care is something that’s accepted within the medical traditions.
“MAiD is a more direct intervention, so we’re trying to make sure we get the checks and balances right,” he added. “But certainly the basis for protecting the autonomous choices of individuals is so fundamental.”
The court’s ruling will come into effect March 11, unless an extension is granted. While this ruling only applies in Quebec, the federal government has accepted it and committed to changing the law for the entire country.
Lametti hopes to have a bill in front of the House of Commons in February as a result of the consultations.
“Then we’ll see if there is a consensus in the House. We haven’t ruled out asking for an extension from the Superior Court, but we have work to do before that.”
Fidn the survey at www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cons/ad-am/index.html