Medical assistance in dying law should have been more patient-centred

Carol Hughes
A Supreme Court decision forced Parliament to act on the issue of medical assistance in dying, but the government has chosen to make this a more fractured discussion on a number of fronts that could have been avoided, or at the very least tempered with a little foresight and planning.  The right to decide on how one wants to end their life has been deemed a Charter right and the government knew they had to address this.  It isn’t helpful that they are rushing through debate and have introduced closure, which limits discussion, on the most contentious bill before parliament in a very long time.
That’s a big about-face for the Liberals who never missed a chance to lecture the Conservatives on how anti-democratic closure was.  What’s more worrisome is how unprepared they have been to preface the debate with policies and initiatives that would reduce the number of Canadians who may seek a doctor’s help to end their life.  With no money in the budget for palliative care – despite an electoral promise to invest $3billion on this front – the government has knowingly made end of life care more difficult to obtain for many Canadians. Currently we have a patch-work of provincial programs and less than 30% of Canadians are able to access quality palliative care.
This is not news or new to parliamentarians either.  In the last Parliament we passed a National Palliative Care Strategy that was intended to reduce the gaps in services across the country.  It was well supported by members on all sides of the House, but has never been acted upon.  Moreover, New Democrats have brought the issue back since the election with Motion No. 46, which calls for the establishment of a pan-Canadian palliative end-of-life strategy. It has already been supported by Parliament, but there was nothing in the budget to reflect that.
Additional concerns that could have been addressed ahead of this debate relate to improving mental health services for vulnerable individuals – which are notoriously difficult to obtain when people are actually in crisis; improving Employment Insurance for caregivers who are attending to end-of-life patients; and beefing up health care, especially for items that make a big difference like pain management clinics.  All of those items put the horse squarely in front of the cart and would help make medically assisted dying less of an option for more patients.  Yet the Liberals haven’t made the changes that would make a difference and jumped right into a rushed debate on legislation they knew they had to introduce all along.
Now we have legislation which seems to be the bare minimum that will let the government off the hook, but fill up the courts with challenges to further define the law.  Instead of taking a patient-centred, floor-to-ceiling approach like was recommended by a Joint Special Committee of Parliament that preceded the legislation, the government seems content to reside in the basement and let the courts decide.
It is also important to note that there is no going back through the looking glass on this debate.  The Supreme Court has made it clear that medical assistance in dying is a Charter right and has mandated parliament to fill the legislative void after consecutive governments refused to act.  What they couldn’t mandate was a comprehensive strategy that addressed the issue headlong and fully, or legislation that wasn’t designed to just barely work.  That is the job of parliament and the government hasn’t distinguished themselves with their efforts at all.

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Carol is a three-term MP who has worked hard for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing since being elected in 2008. In addition to her role as MP, Carol serves as Assistant Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole in Canada’s 42nd Parliament. A tireless advocate for the communities she serves, Carol was a leading figure in the fight to preserve ten federal constituencies for Northern Ontario. She has been a prominent spokesperson for passenger rail service, preserving postal service outlets, and good jobs in the region. Carol has worked with First Nations on local and national issues and served as the New Democrat critic for First Nations Health prior to assuming the responsibilities of Assistant Deputy Speaker. With decades of labour experience, Carol understands the priorities of hardworking families. She has introduced legislation to expand access to Employment Insurance benefits and to require mandatory reporting of workplace accidents and occupational diseases. She has also worked with veterans on legislation that will create a Defence of Canada Medal to honour those who served domestically to protect Canada during the Cold War. Committed to serving all her constituents, Carol maintains full constituency offices in both Kapuskasing and Elliot Lake. She also holds regular clinics in communities throughout the riding. Before entering politics, Carol was a regional representative for the Canadian Labour Congress. Earlier, she worked for Probation and Parole Services in Elliot Lake and Youth Justice Services in Sudbury. A long-time community volunteer and activist, Carol lived in Elliot Lake for nearly three decades with her husband Kieth. And as a proud mother and grandmother, Carol is committed to building a better Canada for future generations.


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