MPs expected to vote on assisted-dying bill C-14 in last week of May
Will C-14 survive the House? Patients and their families will be watching closely when vote hits floor
Members of Parliament will vote on the federal government's physician-assisted dying legislation when Parliament resumes in the last week of May.
And while many MPs are struggling with how to vote, people who will ultimately be affected by whatever law is passed, are anxiously watching the bill's passage through parliament.
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Retired nurse Noreen Campbell is one of those people.
She was diagnosed with a cancer in her mouth three years ago. But after surgery for that disease, doctors discovered she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She now needs a tracheotomy to breathe.
"I have to work every day I get up to breathe," the former nurse told CBC.
Her greatest fear she says is suffocating.
"My choice is; do I want to go through the struggle of not breathing, suffocating, over and over, or do I want to say that's enough," she said.
Reasonably foreseeable death
Campbell is worried she won't get to make that choice if the federal government's proposed legislation, C-14, passes because it contains a condition that a patient's death must be reasonably foreseeable in order to qualify for a doctor assisted death.
"I could die next week. But I could also die in 3 years," Campbell said.
Campbell isn't the only patient anxious about how the legislation could affect them.
Doctor Jeff Blackmer deals with medical ethics for the Canadian Medical Association. He's heard from patients and doctors who have been taking a lot of calls since the bill was tabled last month.
"I have heard these questions, for example, from patients with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease and I think it's the same thing. Patients with early mild forms of those illnesses probably wouldn't qualify, while more advanced cases probably would," Blackmer said.
It's not just patients
Blackmer says doctors are anxious too, and he believes including a condition such as a reasonably foreseeable death, actually helps.
"The more definition, the more clarity we can provide, the more physicians will feel comfortable and the more physicians are likely to participate," he said.
Blackmer says the Canadian Medical Association is preparing an online module for mid-June, shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada's deadline of June 6th for the federal government to have passed C-14, to help doctors understand the law.
The CMA has also organized two courses this fall on how doctors can deal with all sorts of end of life issues and there is already a waiting list.
Meeting the Carter challenge
The bill may not be law yet, but it's already facing criticism from the courts.
The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled May 17, the government is flouting last year's landmark ruling by the Supreme Court when it argues that assisted dying should apply only to those who are close to death.
The court also said the federal government was not complying with the Supreme Court's ruling, by excluding people suffering solely from psychiatric conditions.
The ruling prompted the Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to defend her legislation, once again.
"We are legislating for 36 million people in this country and we believe that the regime we put forward is the right balance, having regard for personal autonomy, having regard to ensuring, as much as we can, the protection of the vulnerable. That this is the best first step. This is not the end of the conversation," the minister said after the weekly Liberal caucus meeting yesterday.
If the bill passes the House of Commons it will then move over to the Senate.
A Senate committee tabled a report this month recommended that the legislation only apply to those with terminal illnesses.
'A controlled peaceful death'
Campbell says she joined the advocacy group Dying with Dignity, and is now choosing to speak out, to deal with views like this.
She has this message for senators who want to limit the bill even further.
"Does one of those senators have to get up in the morning, and say thank god I breathe room air? I don't think so. Do any of them have to take over an hour to get ready to go to work, just hoping their medications for their care regime will enable them to walk out the door? I don't think so," she asked.
Campbell says she's prepared to go to Switzerland, where she knows she will qualify for a medically-assisted death, if she has to in the end.
She says her decision is not just about what's best for her.
"I would rather give my family a controlled peaceful death than a tormented one."