Day 6

Canada will soon have no law on assisted dying. Now what?

Canadians will wake up on Monday June 6 without a federal law regulating the practice of physician-assisted death in Canada. Canadian politicians and citizens remain deeply divided over what should come next. Brent speaks to two members of Canada's chronically ill and disabled communities about their concerns over the new bill - or lack thereof.
Listen14:32

For Ruth Enns and Linda Jarrett, the realization that Canada will have no law on the books about assisted dying come Monday morning means a lot of unanswered questions.

Both Enns and Jarrett have direct, personal stakes in the issue. Both fought long and hard for a law that would meet their needs and values. And though they have very different views on the issue, they are now both left in limbo.

"It means a lot of uncertainty," Enns tells Brent Bambury on Day 6 on CBC Radio. "I don't know what to expect or how the situation will be interpreted and by whom." 

It's a matter of power and who has it, who has public voice. People like me don't have that.- Ruth Enns, author of A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities

Sixteen months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that consenting adults have a right to medically-assisted death if they have "grievous and irremediable" conditions that cause suffering that they consider intolerable. 

The court ultimately gave the federal government until June 6th -- this Monday --  to come up with a new law.  Earlier this week, The House of Commons passed Bill C-14 and sent it to The Senate for approval. But many Senators say the bill needs significant changes. 

On Friday, the Senate approved the bill in principle, sent it to committee and adjourned until Tuesday, meaning Canada will be without any law on assisted dying come Monday morning. The principles of the Supreme Court ruling will still stand, but there is some confusion and anxiety over how it will be interpreted in absence of legislation. 

Ruth Enns lives with disabilities related to polio and glaucoma, and she's the author of A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities. She opposes a broad interpretation of the right to an assisted death because she fears it could leave people with disabilities vulnerable to social pressure and even coercion. 

"The Supreme Court ruling has been about suffering, about irremediable situations and so on," she tells Bambury. "Those are very often loaded and undefined terms. But there's a huge push on to expand this to include almost anybody who is thinking of ending their lives deliberately. It's a matter of power and who has it, who has public voice. People like me don't have that."

"The bill itself is founded on this belief that death is preferable to life with disability," she adds. "So I'm fighting a bigger battle than a particular bill."

 "I don't feel vulnerable. I feel ignored in my wishes as a competent human being who has a very distinct view of when enough is enough."- Linda Jarrett, member of Dying With Dignity's Disability Advisory Council

Linda Jarrett was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 18 years ago, at the age of 50 and is a member of Dying With Dignity's Disability Advisory Council. She supports a broader interpretation of the right to an assisted death, one that would include people like her who aren't suffering from a terminal illness.

"At this point in my life I am not eager to have a physican assisted death," she tells Bambury. "I'm disabled. I am losing independence. But I still am embracing life. I don't feel vulnerable. I feel ignored in my wishes as a competent human being who has a very distinct view of when enough is enough."

Jarrett says the fight since the Supreme Court ruling has been disheartening for her, and that "the roller coaster ride of emotions" has been the hardest thing to manage. "Going from euphoria that my rights have been acknowledged and then suddenly with the very narrow piece of legislation, suddenly I'm back to square one."

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