by Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director,
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (www.epcc.ca)
Recently the Parliament of Canada debated the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide under Bill C-407. Bill C-407, a private member's bill sponsored by Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde, which had advanced to second reading. Thanks to the January 2006 general election, Bill C-407 did not go to a final vote, and has died on the Parliamentary order paper. Yet the Bill's publicity and debate caused thousands of Canadians to express their opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide to Members of Parliament.
Now that Bill C-407 is history, do we still need to be concerned about the potential legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide? Judging by the debate surrounding this last attempt, we can state with certainty that Canada will face another similar bill in parliament that will attempt to legalize "mercy" killing.
This article takes a look back at Bill C-407 and explains why we must remain concerned about the prospect of a new bill that will almost certainly arise in parliament to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide. As we will be facing similar legislation after the January 2006 election, we will do well to examine the intent of the last bill, and its underlying philosophy.
Bill C-407 was originally designed to amend sections 222 and 241 of the Criminal Code. Section 222 of the Code concerns homicide (euthanasia), while Section 241 prohibits assisted suicide.
In its preamble Bill C-407 stated that it would legalize "dying with dignity." The true face of the bill was, however, something completely different. What was the reality?
• Bill C-407 was not about dying with dignity, it sought to euthanasia and assisted suicide for people suffering chronic physical and mental pain. Chronic physical and mental pain can be treated effectively. Chronic depression would have qualified under the mental pain provision.
• Bill C-407 did not require that a person at least try effective treatments for their chronic physical or mental pain. It stated that a person could qualify for euthanasia even if he had refused to try effective treatments.
• Bill C-407 was not limited to competent people "choosing" death. Bill C-407 would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for people who "appeared to be lucid". Appearing to be lucid does not assure that one is lucid.
• Bill C-407 was not about "physician aid-in-dying". The Bill allowed anyone to euthanize or assist in the suicide of a person, so long as they were "assisted by a medical practitioner", and acted in the manner indicated by the person who wishes to die. The term medical practitioner is not limited to physicians alone.
• Bill C-407 allowed any person to kill another person for reasons that included chronic depression.
Now that Bill C-407 has died an actual death, we must continue to be very concerned: a new private members bill to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide could be introduced in the present parliamentary session. We recognize that Bill C-407 has softened the opposition to moderate forms of "mercy" killing, and we ask Canadians who share our concerns for vulnerable people to strongly oppose any legislation that changes our laws concerning euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide directly threaten the lives of people with disabilities, those suffering from chronic physical or mental conditions, the frail elderly and other vulnerable people.
Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide places the power over life and death into the hands of another person, a power that can be abused by the individual or the state. When someone has the right or "duty" to directly cause the death of another person, the question becomes who decides, and why?
In relation to the vulnerable person, legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide becomes an issue of having power over the weak. The person who has the right or duty to cause death may be encouraged to act based on pressure by family members, friends or medical care-givers who decide to kill based on their perceptions of quality of life, or a perceived burden.
Our opposition to legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide in any form is not simply based on the inability to devise effective safeguards, but rather that the issue is fundamental to our concerns for vulnerable people based on the nature of the human person. Every human person needs to be treated in a dignified manner, as an equal member of society.
A society that has accepted death as a treatment for difficult medical conditions, and abandons its vulnerable members from the care that they need, is a society that has become hard and callous. We support a society that cares for all of its citizens.