Metro Morning

Medically assisted dying bill 'not good enough,' says Liberal MP

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant believes his own government's bill is 'not good enough' in its attempts to help terminally ill Canadians who wish to end their own lives with the help of a doctor.

Rob Oliphant, who co-chaired committee on topic, says his government's bill is too careful

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant says his own government's Bill C-14 on doctor-assisted dying is unsatisfactory. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Liberal Member of Parliament Rob Oliphant believes his own government's bill is too narrow in its attempts to help terminally ill Canadians who wish to end their own lives with the help of a doctor.

"We're concerned not so much about what it left out but some of the things that are in it," Oliphant told Metro Morning on Wednesday.

"And I think that the government has perhaps tried to define things a little bit too carefully or too closely. Perhaps some of that should be left to the patient and the physician to work out together.

The Liberal MP for Don Valley West served as co-chair of Parliament's special joint committee on physician-assisted dying, and said Bill C-14 ignored some of the committee's important recommendations.

"What I actually said was, it may be good enough, but when it comes to life and death, good enough is not good enough."

Oliphant said the committee tried to anticipate how the Supreme Court of Canada might rule on the legislation if it was challenged under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We looked at the whole issue, and said: 'What could happen and how could we advise the government on that?' It was a stretch. It was a vision. And necessarily, I believe the government actually trimmed that back," said Oliphant, who is also a United Church minister.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant says much concern over the bill stems from its lack of language around 'advanced consent.' (University of Calgary)

The committee report made 21 recommendations about how the law should be shaped. The Supreme Court of Canada had previously ruled that the legal ban on physician-assisted death violated Canadians' rights under the charter.

Bill more restrictive than Supreme Court ruling

According to the legislation, assisted death would be legal only for consenting adults, at least 18 years of age, who are in "an advanced stage of irreversible decline" from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom a natural death is "reasonably foreseeable."

The bill is more restrictive than the conditions prescribed by the Supreme Court, which has ruled that medical help in dying should be available to clearly consenting adults with "grievous and irremediable" medical conditions who are enduring physical or mental suffering that they find intolerable.

Oliphant said the legislation introduces two concepts that concern him. One is that a disease has to be incurable, as opposed to irremediable, and the other is that a disease has to be terminal.

He said incurable is different than irremediable, a term defined by the Supreme Court to describe a medical condition in which a patient has intolerable suffering and does not have to undergo treatments that are unacceptable to them.

Price Carter, Kay Carter's son, and Lee Carter, her daughter, listen at a press conference on doctor-assisted death legislation, Bill C-14, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, April 21, 2016.

A terminal disease, he said, excludes conditions that may cause intolerable suffering but where death is not "reasonably foreseeable." 

Bill is about dying or suffering

He said B.C.'s Kay Carter suffered from spinal stenosis but her condition was not terminal, even though her family said she had intolerable suffering. The 89-year-old travelled secretly to Switzerland in 2010, where she legally obtained medical help to die.

"I think the lawyers on this have tried to tighten things up," he said.

"What most doctors are saying is, this is an art. We are going to engage with the patient. We want to make sure there are two physicians involved, we want to make sure that there are safeguards for the vulnerable, but the patient's story is the one that story counts the most."

Oliphant said the notion of "advanced consent" is not in the legislation. He said it was included in the committee's report, and at a recent town hall in Toronto, 90 per cent of people there were concerned about this omission.

He said older Canadians are worried that, if they get a disease in which they lose the mental capacity to make decisions, they would not be able to leave instructions for their families and doctors.

"I would call this phase one legislation. Canadians need to live with it," he said.

"This legislation is not about living and dying. It's about dying or suffering. That is why good is not good enough."

Oliphant said he expects the legislation will rarely be used in Canada.

"I think this is be a very, very rare event. It gives Canadians comfort that, if things get bad, there will be something there for them."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.