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Manitoba Conservative MP Fletcher plans right-to-die bill

OTTAWA – For Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, the right to die is about choice and empowerment.

And so, the Manitoba MP plans to introduce two private member’s bills on Thursday: one to allow doctors to help people end their lives under certain circumstances, and another to establish a commission to monitor the system and make recommendations for improvement.

“The most important thing at the end of the day is people need to be empowered to live – and die – the way they wish,” Fletcher said Wednesday.

“And right now we’re doing alright on the living side, but on the dying side, you have no choice.”

Fletcher, a former cabinet minister, was left a quadriplegic in 1996 after his car hit a moose.

He said technology has advanced significantly in recent years, and life expectancy has increased since the Supreme Court last revisited the idea, some 20 years ago.

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Fletcher said support for assisted-suicide is “off the charts” in Quebec, and in English Canada people also want the option of making end-of-life choices.

“I think people will look at the two bills, and reflect. I’ve not asked for support, but I have asked for people to listen to the debate,” said Fletcher.

He said as with all private members’ bills, he expects MPs will consult with their constituents.

“We will I think at the very minimum be much more educated as a people on what is and is not available when the time comes.”

The government was quick to slap down the idea, with Justice Minister Peter MacKay saying the Conservatives have no interest in changing the law.

“I have tremendous respect for Steven Fletcher. His personal circumstances obviously inform his view on this very emotional issue. And it is a very important issue for everyone,” said MacKay.

“Having said that, the House of Commons debated this issue not that many years ago, and my own view is I’m hesitant to re-enter and re-open this debate at this time.”

WATCH: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday that on the subject of doctor-assisted suicide, he’ll take his cues from the Supreme Court’s decision on the matter.

Last fall, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the Conservative government does not support assisted suicide. MacKay said Wednesday that position has not changed.

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He also cast doubt on whether there is widespread support for assisted suicide in Canada. “It depends very much on how we pose the question, and what information and context accompanies that question,” said MacKay.

In 2010, Parliament voted against legalizing assisted suicide. Similar legislation was introduced in Quebec last year, but died when the provincial election was called.

The Supreme Court of Canada has also agreed to hear an appeal in the high-profile British Columbia case of Gloria Taylor, a terminally ill woman who died in 2012.

Conservative MP Mark Warawa said it’s a good thing that Parliament is having the debate.

But the British Columbia MP said he’s more interested in improving palliative care, and supports an NDP motion for a national strategy.

“People consider ending their lives with doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia, when they’re afraid, and depressed, and they don’t see themselves as having value. They don’t want to be a burden on anybody. And I understand that,” said Warawa.

“But I think the proper approach is palliative care.”

He said he believes a majority in the Conservative caucus agree with the palliative care approach.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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