Many of you will remember Sue Rodriguez — the very brave woman who went to court in the 1990s seeking the right to die. She had a terminal illness and wished to die with dignity. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her court application. However, the publicity her case generated gave the right-to-die movement the political capital to successfully lobby the federal government for right-to-die legislation.
It took until 2016, when Justin Trudeau’s newly elected federal government passed Bill C-14, for Canadians to get legislation that allows Medical Assistance in Dying or MAiD. While a big step forward, this legislation has several flaws.
One of its biggest failures is the requirement that people requesting a medically assisted death must be mentally capable at the time of the procedure. This is embedded in the assisted death legislation so they can change their mind at the last moment and revoke their request for MAiD. This sounds fine in theory, but the net result is that individuals with illnesses such as dementia would have to request MAiD before their illness advances to the point where they’re no longer mentally competent — something the current law does not allow.
Already the failure of Bill C-14 has meant that people like Audrey Parker in Nova Scotia have been forced to opt for a premature death. Other individuals suffering from dementia, even in its early stages — such as Ron Posno in London, Ontario — realize a terrible irony: The way the law now stands, they will have no mind to change at the crucial moment. (Learn about Ron’s case in this excellent documentary by Alisa Segal that I heard on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition.)
Last week, several reports that the federal government commissioned on Bill C-14 were released. While the reports were not to provide recommendations, three separate areas were reviewed. One of these is the incorporation of advance directives for assisted death. This is when a competent person makes a request for assisted dying that could be honoured later, after they no longer have the mental capacity to make medical decisions for themselves.
In my opinion, advance directives should be included. This would go a long way toward fixing Bill C-14. It also would put at ease people who suffer with diseases like dementia — and their families and caregivers — relieving of them of a tremendous burden so they can focus on more necessary things.
If you feel like I do on this important issue, you may wish to sign this petition by Dana Livingstone in Sooke, who wants no one to suffer like her mom with dementia did at the end. Not everyone with advanced cognitive decline will want an assisted death, but those who do should not be denied their right to do so.
Dying with Dignity Canada is a not-for-profit organization that supports MAiD and advance directives for assisted death. Offering a range of services and information about patients’ rights, they believe it’s your life, it’s your choice.