Despite exclusions, assisted dying legislation gives Edmonton-area woman peace of mind
Barb Gibson-Clifford calls assisted dying legislation introduced in Ottawa Thursday re-assuring, but she still has some concerns about what is and isn’t included.
The Sherwood Park woman has been battling stage four sarcoma for 10 years. She said her greatest concern when her life comes to an end is whether it will be painful.
If so, she wants to have the choice of assisted dying.
“I can set up things ahead of time with my physician. We can take the steps that are necessary that I can have a peaceful and dignified passing at the end of my life,” she said.
For someone to be eligible, he or she would have to be mentally competent, be 18 or older and have a serious and incurable, illness, disease or disability. He or she must also give informed consent to receive the medical assistance in dying, be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability and death would have to be “reasonably foreseeable.”
However, the legislation does not cover items recommended by a committee that studied the issue. There is no mention of advance directives, mature minors or mental illness.
It is for those reasons that Gibson-Clifford calls the legislation conservative.
“[Those with Alzheimer’s or dementia] either have to end their lives before they’re really at a point where that might otherwise be necessary or they have to live through the course of their disease,” she said.
“[Mental illness] is another sticking point. To have that choice is just as real for someone with a mental illness as it is for me with a physical one,” Gibson-Clifford said.
The legislation also calls for a waiting period of at least 15 days, which Gibson-Clifford slams.
“We’ve done all the thinking. We don’t just come up with this on the spur of the moment.”
Despite the criticism, she said the federal Liberals did a “pretty good job” drafting the legislation.
“I still think there could have been a little more consideration to the advance directive concern for sure but considering we have come this far in terms of dealing with physician assisted dying, it’s absolutely remarkable,” she said.
Ubaka Ogbogu, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the scope of the law may have been done strategically.
“It’s legislation that understands there are competing views on the matter. It is a very controversial issue, so it starts small and there is a commitment in the legislation to expand, if necessary, in the future,” he said.
“I think it’s a sensible thing to do for an issue this controversial and that does have consequences. I think it’s good to start small, study the issue, study the consequences, and see how this plays out.”
But not everyone is on board with the legislation. Mark Pickup is a staunch opponent of assisted dying. The 63-year-old man battles multiple sclerosis and argues the greater good trumps personal choice.
“No matter how sick I become, I am still responsible to the common good of society. If I choose assisted suicide, it doesn’t affect just me. It affects my wife, my children, and my grandchildren. It will affect my doctor. I will ask to stop being my healer and become my killer,” he said.
Pickup said emphasis needs to shift away from dying with dignity.
“Our society needs to invest more in palliative care. We need to put more emphasis on helping people live with dignity,” Pickup said.
“Death with dignity is not achieved at the end of a lethal injection.”
The law prohibiting assisted dying expires on June 6, which is the deadline for the federal Liberals to pass the legislation.
If it does pass, it will become the responsibility of provinces and territories to determine where and how the service will be delivered.
Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said there are many interests to consider.
“For me, the most important thing is going to be making sure we’re balancing the right of access with protections for vulnerable Albertans as well as ensuring medical professionals are protected,” she said.
Payne said the province will be closely monitoring the debate over the legislation in the House of Commons.
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