Nova Scotia

N.S. advocate of medically assisted death calls for amendments to federal law

The head of a Nova Scotia charity that advocates for access to medically assisted death is calling for nationwide amendments to the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) law.

Sheila Sperry says people should live until their chosen death date, even if they lose mental capacity

Sheilia Sperry, the co-ordinator for the Nova Scotia chapter of Dying With Dignity Canada, says late-stage consent and the criterion that a death be reasonably foreseeable must be removed from the law. (Submitted by Sheilia Sperry)

The head of a Nova Scotia charity that advocates for access to medically assisted death is calling for nationwide amendments to the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) law.

Sheilia Sperry, the head of the Nova Scotia chapter of Dying with Dignity, said late-stage consent and the criterion that a death be reasonably foreseeable must be removed from the law.

"How do you tell what's reasonably foreseeable? As someone said yesterday to me, once we're born, our death is reasonably foreseeable," Sperry told CBC's Information Morning in an interview Wednesday.

In June 2016, Bill C-14 made it legal for terminally ill patients to access medically assisted death. Since then, more than 6,700 Canadians have used MAID to control when and how they died.

But last September, the Superior Court of Quebec found it unconstitutional to limit MAID to only people who are already dying or have a "reasonable foreseeability of natural death," according to the federal Criminal Code.

More than 6,700 Canadians have chosen to die through medical assistance in dying since it was established in 2016. (CBC)

The ruling will come into effect in Quebec on March 11, but Sperry said if the federal government doesn't adjust Bill C-14, then the rest of Canada will be "out of step."

Since the court ruling, Justice Minister David Lametti has said the government is updating legislation across the country.

On Jan. 13, the Department of Justice launched a two-week online survey asking Canadians to weigh in on how far to extend access to medically assisted dying.

'Audrey's Amendment'

Sperry said the survey is a step in the right direction. She hopes the removal of the late-stage consent rule will be an outcome, which she's calling "Audrey's Amendment."

Audrey Parker of Halifax chose to die on Nov. 1, 2018, after suffering from terminal cancer. She was approved for MAID and made a video that was released posthumously, which called for the removal of the late-stage consent requirement.

In the video, Parker said she wanted to make it to Christmas, but was worried she'd become incompetent and would no longer be able to consent.

Sperry said Audrey's Amendment would allow people to live until their chosen death date, even if they lose mental capacity or aren't conscious to consent.

Audrey Parker made a video three days before she died asking Canada to make a change to its assisted dying law so that late-stage consent isn't needed to invoke medical assistance in dying. (Dying with Dignity Canada)

She said once a person is approved for MAID, that should be enough.

"It's highly, highly unlikely, after all the discussion, all the review, that anybody would change their mind," Sperry said.

"And certainly if somebody did, the doctor is not going to go through with the procedure."

Sperry is hoping the changes are addressed after the survey is completed and by the time the law in Quebec is established on March 11.

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