Conservative Party members on a special committee studying the limitations of Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAID) regime want dedicated time to hear from those who have suffered because of medical non-compliance with its procedural safeguards.
MPs Michael Barrett and Michael Cooper say before looking at ways to expand the existing law, parliamentarians should consider the “effectiveness, compliance, and enforceability” of the existing legislated safeguards since being put into effect in 2016 and then revised in 2021.
“We’re here today to give a voice to Canadian families who are victims of the lack of enforcement of MAID safeguards,” said Barrett at a Tuesday press conference about the issue.
The original wording of Canada’s MAID law allowed for assisted death so long as natural death was “reasonably foreseeable.” In 2019, a Quebec Superior Court ruled that stipulation was unconstitutional and gave the Canadian government a deadline to remove it and provide solace to those intolerably suffering, but not facing imminent death.
In March 2021, Parliament passed Bill C-7 to reflect that change and identify other eligibility criteria.
Those suffering solely from mental illnesses were left off the list, but at the time the government committed to a two-year study about the needs of this specific bracket of patients.
It’s part of the mandate of the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying, composed of members of Parliament and senators, and is set up as a statutory requirement within Bill C-7.
The committee must assess the provisions of the Criminal Code related to medical assistance in dying and its application, including issues surrounding access for mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada, and the protection of Canadians with disabilities.
Cooper put forward a motion on Monday during the committee’s last meeting to initiate six hours of study to hear from witnesses who’ve faced “abuse” and “coercion” from medical practitioners as their loved ones faced the prospect of MAID, and others who’ve witnessed non-compliance with procedural safeguards.
He argues the existing structure of the joint committee does not provide an opportunity to look at these issues.
“Unfortunately the committee is structured right now in such a way that we are looking at ways to expand medical assistance in dying without looking at the lay of the land. I say that that is putting the cart before the horse,” said Cooper.
The MPs were joined by individuals who allege the medical system failed their loved ones for not subscribing to the MAID safeguards.
“Our mom’s temporary suffering ended, but now we will suffer a lifetime without her. Help us ensure that her death was not in vain and our experience helps guide a legislation that protects the vulnerable,” said one woman.
The first meeting was held on April 8 and while the deadline to produce a report has been extended to October, the Conservatives note that still doesn’t leave the members with much time to consider all elements of the committee’s mandate when taking into account Parliament’s summer recess.
It comes with the caveat that an interim report on mental illness as a sole underlying condition of requesting medical assistance in dying be presented to the House of Commons by no later than June 23.
Cooper said the request for witness testimony is a “very modest request… It’s the least that the committee can do in order to prepare a fulsome report.”
The committee will debate Cooper’s motion next Monday.