January 16, 2016 6:30 pm
Updated: January 16, 2016 9:57 pm

Edmonton family slams extension granted to feds for assisted dying laws

WATCH ABOVE: A local family reacts to a supreme court decision to grant the federal government 4 more months to draft legislation related to physician assisted suicide. Julia Wong reports.


EDMONTON – An Edmonton family said they are disappointed by Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to grant the federal government a four-month extension to craft assisted-dying legislation. The Supreme Court struck down Canada’s assisted dying laws last February, saying they were unconstitutional.

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READ MORE: ‘This is real people suffering’: Supreme Court ruling deals blow to assisted death advocates

Betty Brown, 65, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 15 years ago. She wants to use the legislation once the pain from her MS becomes too severe.

“You have good days. You have bad days. When I’m having a bad day, it’s not fun. It takes me four times as long as it used to take me to get dressed,” she said.

READ MORE: Is Canada ready for physician-assisted death?

Brown’s father died suddenly of an aneurysm several decades ago. While his death was painful for her, she said that is what she wants for herself.

“He was here one second, gone the next. That’s what you want.”

Her mother, who is 89 years old, has dementia and is bedridden in a care facility. Brown said that her mother’s experience is not one that she wants to endure.

“You don’t want to dwindle and that’s what my mother is doing. My mom isn’t even there anymore,” she said while choking back tears.

“Sometimes, I don’t even feel like that I’m there anymore. I’m very forgetful. I have trouble talking.”

RELATED: Alberta family awaits right-to-die legislation after traumatic death

Brown said she plans to do paperwork related to assisted-dying while she is in a sound state of mind and use it when “I don’t know my own mind anymore”.

Her husband Al supports her decision.

“Personally for anybody that wants it, they should have the right to have it. It’s your life,” he said.

“It’s hard because you love somebody. You don’t want to see them go. But the other side of it, you don’t want to see them live and suffer either.”

RELATED: Physician-assisted dying should be publicly funded, advisory group says

The pair said that, while Betty still maintains a good quality of life, the extension is cruel to those who are already suffering or may become incapable of making decisions for themselves in the next four months.

“For somebody who’s at their end of their life, a four-month extension is just prolonging things and they can suffer longer for no reason,” said Al.

“We finally have some hope here and then they get a four-month extension. What’s not to say they don’t go for another one after this one is done?” Brown said.

Daughter Dana Kizlyk, 29, is a registered nurse who works in geriatrics. She said the extension is a disappointed on a personal and professional level.

“I’ve seen a lot of people passing and a lot of it is horrible. Watching my grandma, she’s just wasting away. She’s not the woman she was before and not just because of the dementia,” she said.

Kizlyk said she feels the government is dragging their feet on the legislation.

“We’re not re-creating the wheel here. We have a lot of jurisdiction and legislation we can pull from. I really don’t think [the extension] was warranted or needed at all,” she said.

St. Albert MP Michael Cooper is a Conservative and a member of the joint committee on doctor-assisted suicide. The group will meet for the first time on Monday.

Cooper said he is disappointed the Supreme Court only granted the federal government four months instead of six months. But he acknowledges any timeframe would have been tricky.

“It is a short timeline. I’m concerned to some extent. However we will be able to have the kind of broad consultation that is required in the circumstances,” he said.

Cooper defends providing an extension, saying it is a very sensitive and complex issue.

“When we’re talking about a matter of life and death, it’s important we get it right,” he said.

“There are a lot of people who are suffering. We have a very short time frame to come back to work, put forward a recommendation and then for the government to bring in legislation to amend the Criminal Code.”

Cooper said the panel will call witnesses and hold consultations. Its main responsibility will be to better understand the scope of the original Supreme Court decision, examine what oversights are needed and determine how to define what a grievous and irremediable condition is.

Quebec, whose assisted-dying law came into effect last month and which has begun helping residents end their lives, is exempt from the four-month extension.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould welcomed the ruling in a statement Friday evening.

“The Government of Canada respects the court’s judgment and remains committed to developing a thoughtful, compassionate, and well-informed response to the Supreme Court’s ruling,” she wrote.

“This extension will provide the time to work closely with Minister Philpott and officials at Health Canada, and in consultation with the provinces and territories, to move quickly, with care and diligence, to develop an approach that protects the most vulnerable among us while respecting the inherent dignity of all Canadians.”

The ruling has said that people who want to die right now can apply for a special exemption — but they have to go to court.

“Those who wish to seek assistance from a physician [in dying] … may apply to the superior court of their jurisdiction for relief during the extended period of suspension,” the ruling reads.

“Requiring judicial authorization during that interim period ensures compliance with the rule of law and provides an effective safeguard against potential risks to vulnerable people.”

-with files from Anna Mehler Paperny


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