MP Rob Oliphant leads right-to-die talks

Should terminally ill minors have the right to die? What about those suffering from mental illness?

According to Don Valley West MP Rob Oliphant and the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, the answer is yes.

On Feb. 25, the committee, comprised of a mix of MPs and senators, tabled its report, “Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient Centered Approach,” which included 21 recommendations for developing legislation pertaining to physician-assisted death in Canada.

Among the recommendations were those to allow “competent mature minors” – persons under the age of 18 – and those suffering from incurable mental illness the right to request a doctor’s help to die.

“When we look at the issue of age, we have to balance the right of ensuring capacity from a younger person and at the same time, safeguard their right if they have intolerable suffering,” Oliphant said.

Oliphant, who co-chaired the committee, says members of the panel heard from 61 witnesses and received over 120 reports. In drafting their recommendations, they considered input from a variety of faith, patient advocacy and disability-based groups, as well as healthcare professionals, academics, and legislative frameworks already in place in Quebec, the United States and Europe.

The NDP has expressed its support of the report. Conservative MPs, however, questioned the committee’s recommendation to extend the right to minors, the lack of safeguards in place to protect mentally ill persons and the issue of physicians who refuse to administer the procedure.

“If an individual with a mental illness does not have the capacity to buy a cell phone contract, how can they be deemed to have capacity to decide to end their life prematurely?” Conservative MP Mark Warawa asked.

Toronto-Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin, however, believes that the report adequately addressed these concerns.

“At the heart of our work was to set guidelines that would give access to this constitutional right, create safeguards to protect vulnerable people,and respect the conscientious objection of some medical practitioners,” Dabrusin said.

The report comes one year after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Carter v. Canada case, which ruled section 14 and paragraph 241(b) of the Criminal Code unconstitutional, as they infringe upon a person’s right to a consensual death in Oliphant,RobFILErgbinstances of intolerable suffering.

The federal government has until June 6, 2016 to draft legislation using the recommendations outlined by the committee, and will have to find a way to grapple with these contentious issues going forward.

“There wasn’t a day when we were listening to testimony or a moment when we were writing the report that the needs of the vulnerable were not foremost in our minds,” Oliphant said.

“We are ensuring that a system is in place and that every Canadian has equal access, and that every Canadian has equal protection.”