This Law Makes Me Nervous

10 May 2016 This Law Makes Me Nervous

Parliament’s standing committee on Justice and Human Rights is continuing hearings on Bill C-14, the government legislative response to the Carter decision. Last week, ARPA appeared before the committee, with testimony from two young men with severe disabilities, who spoke out about how the bill makes them “nervous” that their lives will be under-valued. On this week’s feature, we have the full audio version of their testimony. You can also view the testimony here.

In the news, a look ahead to this week’s God and Government conference in Ottawa, including a final update on the Booties for Babies campaign. Parts of the conference will be live-streamed – you can see the schedule for those broadcasts here.

A BC Member of Parliament has introduced a Private Member’s bill to protect the conscience rights of doctors, pharmacists, and other health care workers in the context of doctor-assisted suicide.

And last week was the first full hour of debate on “Cassie and Molly’s Law”, a bill to stiffen penalties in cases where a pre-born child is hurt or killed while an offence is being committed against a pregnant woman.


Last Tuesday, ARPA had an opportunity to make a presentation to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the presentation on doctor-assisted suicide. Specifically, the proposed Bill C-14. ARPA lawyer André Schutten led off the presentation with a very brief statement urging committee members to look into ARPA’s position that Parliament still has the power to outlaw assisted suicide altogether without using the so-called notwithstanding clause of the constitution. We detail that at the ARPA website. But the bulk of the presentations came from two, young disabled men: James Scutten and Pieter Harsevoort, who expressed their fears as disabled Canadians of what the law might mean for them. On the feature today: their full presentations which you can also view online. We’ve got a link up on the Lighthouse home page. The presentations began with James Schutten and than went straight to Pieter Harsevoot’s testimony.

James: I am James Schutten, thanks for the opportunity to speak to you about this important issue. When I was two years old I was diagnosed with spinular muscular atrophy which has left me with serious physical disabilities. I require someone to set up my feeding tube, suction my trachea, turn me over in bed, take me to the bathroom, and scratch my head. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me, I don’t feel sorry for myself. But, you need to know that these professionals and family members need to care about my life and whether I live or die. This is why I needed to talk to you about your draft law legalizing doctor assisted death and how that law will affect me and others like me.

I’ve gone to the hospital because of illness and medical staff questioned whether extreme measures were worth it, this makes me very nervous because I feel like I’m not worth the trouble. Thankfully, my family has my back to speak with the doctor’s on my behalf. If I have anxiety now, how much more if Bill C-14 comes into effect. What if society started from the perspective that I do have value? What if people didn’t view me as a burden for others to carry? I’m one of those people who the Supreme Court of Canada thinks should have this right to doctor-assisted death, but what if instead I had the right to palliative care or resources to help me continue to be a productive member of society. I believe that others like me feel the same way, but with this right to die, it makes me feel like society thinks I should choose to die. Therefore, I urge you to add to section 241.2 (3) the requirement that palliative care is meaningfully made available to the patient.

Look past my wheelchair and see that I am an asset in my community. I volunteer at a nursing home a few days a week and help out at an elementary school, all of which I really enjoy. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to choose exactly when to die. That, God alone decides, and He does not make mistakes. He has a purpose for everyone. My faith and family add value to my life. Instead of investing money into a bill which normalizes the choice of death, our country should invest time and money into giving people with illness, disabilities and old age, a will to live. I have one last thing to say. I want you to know that I am not a public speaker. I was very nervous to come here, but I feel that this goes far beyond just me and my securities and limitations. I need to speak up, because this is so important. Please remember me when you make your decision. Thank-you.

Pieter: I’d like to echo first of all a thank-you to you all for allowing me to come here and the privilege to speak to you members of the committee, and also to echo James’ concerns and to add my own two cents, as I do have concerns with Bill C-14 including its lack of precision in language. Sadly, I feel that the bill is dangerously dependent on euphemisms. Throughout, medically-assisted dying is used to describe what is in reality physician-assisted suicide. This is problematic in the way that it undercuts palliative care, after all what is palliative care if it is not medically-assisted dying? I urge you to please use accurate terminology so that termination of life is not confused with palliative medicine.

Furthermore, the proposed law necessitates that in order for someone to assist an individual with suicide a medical professional must be of the opinion that the person meets all the criteria including the opinion that they have a grievous medical condition. Since the term grievous is vague an attempt is made to make that definition more specific in section 241.2 (2). However, even here Bill C-14 mentioned the problems. Parliament’s going to define intolerable suffering as opposed to tolerable suffering. The reality is that intolerable suffering is relative. Suffering is nullified by many diverse factors, and therapies and treatments are readily available to address all of these factors. Not only is unendurable suffering relative, but it is too much to ask a physician to judge whether or not someone is indeed experiencing intolerable suffering. In order to ensure that physicians don’t approve uthanasia for vulnerable persons like James and myself in moments of weakness, specifics must be added to section 241.2 such as including the need for reasonable proof rather than your opinion in 241.2 (3) (a) and the addition of a specific prognosis in 241.2 (2) (d) to replace the phrase: “the natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.” Section 241 (5) provided exemption for aiding an individual to self-administer a substance with the purpose of ending their life in an attempt to protect autonomy. The key checks and balances bridge in place elsewhere in the bill are hereby bypassed.

We cannot just assume that people will be protected by the safeguards outlined in the Section 241.2 (3). Most importantly, there must be oversight to ensure that patients are given the opportunity to revert their request as outlined in 241.2 (3) (h). We must be careful that the appropriate balance mentioned in the preamble to the bill is not skewed too far towards autonomy at the expense of vulnerable persons in need of protection such as James and I. the only true protection of the sanctity of life is a ban on euthanasia, but barring that, these recommendations will improve the situation for the disabled and ill. Thank-you.

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