Nova Scotia

Assisted-dying bill discriminates: Senator James Cowan

James Cowan, leader of Independent Senate Liberals, says Bill C-14 as it is now discriminates against people with mental illness seeking medically assisted death.

Senator James Cowan tried to change to Bill C-14 to include people with mental illness

Senator James Cowan, leader of the Independent Liberals in the Senate, said he thinks Bill C-14 will be challenged again. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Senator James Cowan, leader of the Independent Senate Liberals, says Bill C-14 discriminates against people with mental illness seeking medically-assisted death.

"Unless you're terminally ill you will not have access to this medical aid in dying and I think that's wrong," Cowan told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

"There are lots of people who suffer from mental illness but are certainly competent to make decisions about their own lives and make their own choices." 

Cowan was one of a number of senators who wanted to make changes to the controversial assisted-dying bill. Eventually he said the majority of the Senate agreed not the pursue the matter further. Bill C-14 passed on May 31.

Mental illness vs. physical illness

"We're talking about grievous and irremediable conditions. We're not talking about people who just have a bad day," said Cowan.

"I don't think that we should discriminate against people because they happen to have a mental illness rather than a physical illness."

The senator said there are safeguards in the bill to protect people from undue influence from others.

"What we're trying to achieve here is to guarantee the right that the Supreme Court of Canada said that Canadians who meet certain criteria have to apply for it. It's their choice. It's not somebody else's choice," said Cowan.

Cowan said an "elegant way" to resolve the dilemma would have been to "send that bit dealing with eligibility to the Supreme Court of Canada to have it determined." He thinks Bill C-14 will be challenged again.

"I think there will be challenges to the bill, to the constitutionality to the bill that it excludes those who are suffering if they are not terminally ill," said Cowan.

"I think that this bill takes away rights that were granted unanimously by the Supreme Court of Canada and that's what I was fighting to get changed."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

with files from Diane Paquette and CBC Radio's Mainstreet

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