Con­cerns raised about Lib­er­als’ ap­proach to doc­tor-as­sisted death de­ci­sion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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The new Lib­eral govern­ment may be tak­ing the same lais­sez­faire ap­proach to doc­tor-as­sisted death as its Con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sors did, a lawyer for one of Canada’s best-known right-todie cru­saders ar­gued Mon­day.

The govern­ment may in fact have no in­ten­tion of draft­ing an as­sisted-sui­cide law, Joseph Ar­vay, who rep­re­sents the B.C. Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion, told the nine-judge Supreme Court panel.

Glo­ria Tay­lor and Kay Carter orig­i­nally sought a B.C. court’s help to end their suf­fer­ing, but nei­ther lived long enough to see the high court’s land­mark de­ci­sion last Fe­bru­ary, which rec­og­nized the right of con­sent­ing adults en­dur­ing in­tol­er­a­ble phys­i­cal or men­tal suf­fer­ing to end their lives with a doc­tor’s help.

The high court sus­pended its de­ci­sion for a year to give Par­lia­ment a chance to fig­ure out how to re­spond to the rul­ing; the govern­ment is now ask­ing for a six­month ex­ten­sion on that dead­line, which is Feb. 6.

Ar­vay told the panel the new govern­ment, which was elected Oct. 19, may be pur­su­ing their re­sponse “in the same way as the past govern­ment which is not how to im­ple­ment the Carter de­ci­sion but whether to.”

Ar­vay also shot back at the govern­ment’s sug­ges­tion that the ar­gu­ments of civil lib­er­ties as­so­ci­a­tions “demon­strate a strik­ing naivete con­cern­ing the pol­icy de­vel­op­ment and leg­isla­tive process.”

“I don’t think I’m naive,” he said. “If I’m naive, it’s naive in think­ing that the ... Depart­ment of Jus­tice has read the Carter de­ci­sion.”

Any un­nec­es­sary de­lay in deal­ing with the is­sue will do lit­tle more than ex­tend the suf­fer­ing of count­less Cana­di­ans, he noted.

Surely, in de­cid­ing whether to grant the ex­ten­sion, you have to de­cide whether the govern­ment’s re­quest for an ex­ten­sion, in any way trumps that suf­fer­ing.”

In his sub­mis­sion to the court, govern­ment lawyer Robert Frater said six more months is not a long time in terms of the demo­cratic process, not­ing that the govern­ment is aware its re­quest is un­usual - but not un­prece­dented.

“Par­lia­ment can choose to do any num­ber of things,” Frater said.

“I think the govern­ment has been quite clear that it is try­ing to be open to all op­tions. The dif­fi­culty in this case is that the is­sues are so enor­mous and so com­plex ... it is a new Par­lia­ment, they have to grap­ple with the is­sues.”

Last month, the Lib­er­als es­tab­lished a spe­cial Com­mon­sSe­nate com­mit­tee to ex­plore the is­sue of doc­tor-as­sisted death in hopes of draft­ing a new law ahead of its prospec­tive new Au­gust dead­line. The com­mit­tee is to re­port with leg­isla­tive rec­om­men­da­tions by Feb. 26, ac­cord­ing to the mo­tion that sparked its cre­ation.

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