OTTAWA – The federal government has initiated the promised review of its restrictive new law on medically assisted dying to determine if it should be expanded to include Canadians suffering strictly from mental illnesses, mature minors and those with competence eroding conditions who want to make advance requests.
It announced Tuesday that it has engaged the Council of Canadian Academies to conduct independent reviews on each group and report back by December 2018.
However, Dying with Dignity Canada expressed alarm that the council is to report only a summary of its findings, with no specific policy recommendations. The advocacy group’s CEO, Shanaaz Gokool, said that suggests the federal government has no intention of expanding the law.
“Our supporters were looking to Ottawa to encourage a ‘can-do’ approach to respecting Canadians’ right to assisted dying,” Gokool said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, today’s announcement suggests the government may be content with an assisted dying framework that violates’ Canadians’ charter rights and the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada.”
The law allows assisted dying only for consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and “incurable” disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
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It does not allow for advance requests for an assisted death by those suffering from dementia or other competence-eroding conditions and it does not apply to mature minors or to anyone who is suffering strictly from mental illness.
Those three issues were not specifically addressed in the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 2015, which struck down the absolute ban on assisted dying. The government promised to initiate reviews of each of the three issues within 180 days of its new law going into effect last June.
The new law’s near-death proviso is more restrictive than the top court’s directive that medical assistance in dying should be available to clearly consenting, competent adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they find intolerable. The law is already facing a constitutional challenge.
The Council of Canadian Academies, created in 2005 with an endowment from the federal government, bills itself as an independent, not-for-profit organization that performs expert assessments of the science that’s relevant to the development of public policy in Canada.