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Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse in System for Physician-Assisted Suicide, Without More Time to Develop Safeguards

Ottawa, ON – Vulnerable persons will be at significant risk of abuse and error in the coming system for physician-assisted suicide without more time for Parliament to ensure needed protections are enshrined in the Criminal Code. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and their legal counsel attended the Court’s hearings on Monday in support of the federal government’s request to extend the February 6 deadline for having a system in place.

CCD and CACL believe an extension is essential, especially given that the report of the federal External Panel mandated to consider safeguards has not yet been released; and because the ‘Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying’ rejected proposals for robust safeguards.

In its decision in Carter, the Supreme Court of Canada called for safeguards that would balance access and autonomy with protecting people who are vulnerable to being induced to commit suicide. The Court determined that a safeguards system that imposed “stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced” was needed for these equally important goals.

Yet, proposals for mandatory vulnerability assessment and advance independent review were rejected by the provincial/territorial Advisory Group. This, despite clear evidence of coercion, inducement and abuse of vulnerable persons in systems for physician-assisted suicide in other jurisdictions. Moreover, the Advisory Group did not recognize that physicians will be conflicted in their role to diagnose and address causes of suffering, while also authorizing an intervention intended to cause death.

CCD and CACL believe that safeguards must include: 1) mandatory vulnerability assessments; and 2) a timely prior review and authorization by an independent panel or body. These two cornerstone safeguards would ensure that the decision is completely voluntary and that a person is not vulnerable to misinformation, abuses or coercion. It would also protect physicians – as a whole – from compromising their trusted role in health care; an inevitable consequence of being positioned to authorize interventions intended to cause death.

Media Contacts:
Council of Canadians with Disabilities
James Hicks, National Coordinator

Canadian Association for Community Living
Michael Bach, Executive Vice-President