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Balancing autonomy, vulnerability key for how Liberals will amend assisted dying laws: Hajdu

Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws
WATCH: The federal government has begun consultations on new assisted dying laws, after part of the laws were struck down by the courts. Linda Aylesworth reports.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says finding the best balance between autonomy and protecting the vulnerable will be key in determining how the Liberals will amend Canada’s assisted-dying laws in the coming weeks and months.

In the wake of a Quebec court ruling that found part of those laws unconstitutional last year, the government declined to appeal that ruling and instead opted to amend the legislation to try to address the finding by the court.

That ruling said that allowing only individuals whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable” to access medical assistance in dying was an unconstitutional barrier, and in an interview with The West Block guest host Eric Sorensen, Hajdu said the challenge now is finding the right balance for the amendment.

Changes coming to medical assistance in dying legislation
Changes coming to medical assistance in dying legislation

READ MORE: Federal government begins public consultations on medically assisted dying

“The court in Quebec found that particular criteria was unconstitutional and so it falls on the federal government then to determine how we get the balance right of autonomy of decision making that a person has the right to under the constitution as defined by the courts but also how we protect people in sometimes very vulnerable times of their life or who are in very vulnerable situations,” she said.

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“That’s the nature of the conversation I’ve been having with the stakeholders at the round tables and I have to say, the practitioners who’ve been doing the assessing and the delivery of medical assistance in dying and the research have given a lot of thought to those very matters.”

Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws
Federal government holds consultations on assisted dying laws

The government began consultations last week and as part of the online questionnaire it has made available, suggests it is considering putting other restrictions in place once it removes the requirement for a person seeking the service to be near death.

Some of the possibilities put forward in the questionnaire include whether the current 10-day reflection period should increase, whether psychological or psychiatric assessments should be mandatory to make sure the individual has the capacity to consent and whether both the medical practitioner and the individual seeking to die should have to agree that all other reasonable treatments have failed.

According to the court ruling, the government must amend the law by March 11.

QC judge: Parts of assisted dying laws too restrictive
QC judge: Parts of assisted dying laws too restrictive

Hajdu did not say whether the government will look to seek an extension on that deadline from the court.

“That is one area we know we have to address very quickly because we don’t want different levels of access across the country,” she said.

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“But there are still some very challenging pieces around access issues that I think will benefit from the larger review that’s scheduled for June 2020.”

READ MORE: Justice minister asked to move quickly on assisted death ruling

She pointed to the question of whether mature minors should be able to receive an assisted death, along with individuals with mental illness who are not suffering from any other medical conditions. It will also likely look at the issue of advance directives.

While the consultations so far have not been limited just to the removal of the reasonably foreseeable aspect of the legislation, Hajdu wouldn’t say whether the amending legislation will also look at any other areas of concern.

“Right now we are in a listening mode so I don’t know what this current legislation will address,” she said.

“But by removing the reasonable, foreseeable and natural death, it does open up access to medical assistance in dying, theoretically at least, to a whole bunch of people who are not dying immediately and that would include people who have a diagnosis of conditions that take a long time to progress.”