Let’s remember what C-7 is really about

by Helen Long CEO, Dying With Dignity Canada

The ability to distinguish myth from fact around Bill C-7 and its scope has become complicated by an array of messages creating confusion, as well as the current medical assistance in dying (MAID) legislation and practice.

The federal government tabled Bill C-7 in response to a landmark court ruling in Quebec (Truchon) in 2019 that pointed out the inequity in Canada’s 2016 law on MAID. The legislation proposes broadening the law to include those whose death is not "reasonably foreseeable” and allows for waiver of final consent. The former amendment addresses Truchon to include people who suffer intolerably but whose death is not imminent.

It’s about giving access and autonomy to Canadians who want to end intolerable pain and suffering and want a dignified death.

There is a concern that the removal of the reasonably foreseeable criterion singles out and devalues the lives of people with disabilities. The proposed removal of this criterion does not remove the requirement that a person must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition meeting all of the following criteria:

  • The person has a serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability
  • The person must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
  • The person has enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable and,

It does not remove the requirement that a person make a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that is not the result of outside pressure or influence.

To be clear, we agree that there needs to be an increase in supports for people with disabilities, including those targeted at enhancing income and social supports, reducing waiting lists for housing, specialist care, day programs and assistive devices, and assisting with the navigation of a complex and confusing healthcare system. However, removal of the reasonably foreseeable eligibility criteria will expand the constitutional right to MAiD to people who are suffering intolerably but who are not near death.

Another alarming misconception about the changes to Bill C-7 is that by removing the 10-day reflection period a person can request and access MAiD in a day. The lived experiences of clinicians, caregivers and family members over the last four years have made clear that forcing someone who has already been assessed and approved for MAiD to wait an additional ten days only serves to prolong suffering. It should be noted that in rare cases the procedure may be scheduled to occur in a day where a patient is at risk of death or loss of capacity, and they have already been assessed and approved for MAiD. Thankfully, Bill C-7 is proposing to waive the requirement for final consent should a person lose capacity which will reduce the stress associated with end-of-life decisions and care.

In a recent testimony to the Senate strife with misinformation, a physician based out of Atlanta, Georgia compared the procedure and drugs used for executions by lethal injection in the U.S. criminal system to those used in medically assisted deaths here in Canada. He referred to a drug called Phenobarbitol that could result in a death akin to drowning. This is an alarming piece of information for Canadians to read as we vigorously debate MAiD in our country. How frustrating to learn that this drug is not used in Canadian MAiD provisions and his testimony was unnecessarily shocking.

There are Canadians, today, who are suffering with intolerable pain. They are people who have exhausted all treatments, medications and options and while they would prefer to be healthy and living their lives, they are not. They would like to take control once last time and end their lives safely and with dignity. This is what Bill C-7 is trying to achieve.

“My message to elected and appointed representatives is this: You must remember that the people waiting for Bill C-7 to pass are intelligent, thoughtful people who are suffering a life worse than death. We call for mercy because suicide is not a merciful option. The passing of Bill C-7 would be the most compassionate and thoughtful gift that could be provided to those of us who are suffering.” Janet Hopkins