A few hours ago two disabled Quebecers appeared in a Montreal court to challenge the provincial and federal ‘assisted dying’ laws.
Euthanasia-Free NZ is following the 33-day trial with interest, as its outcome could affect the way the proposed End of Life Choice Bill is interpreted in New Zealand.
Jean Truchon has cerebral palsy and Nicole Gladu has post-polio syndrome. Both use wheelchairs and have incurable medical conditions that are allegedly also degenerative.
Since Truchon and Gladu are not yet at the end of their lives, they are not eligible to have a doctor end their lives by lethal drugs.
The proposed New Zealand End of Life Choice Bill has a similar wording to that of the Canadian and Quebec Medical Assistance in Dying laws. To be eligible a person needs to be “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” and “experience unbearable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that he or she considers tolerable”.
David Seymour claims that disabled people would not qualify under the End of Life Choice Bill, because, he argues, a disability does not involve “irreversible decline”. However, Truchon and Gladu claim to be eligible under similar clauses and restricted only by the additional requirement in the Quebec law specifying that a person needs to “be at the end of life”.
Along similar lines, the Canadian federal euthanasia law requires that the person’s “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable” although with no specific time period before death is expected to occur.
Canadian euthanasia laws are being challenged by others too.
Julia Lamb, in her late 20s, has spinal muscular dystrophy and is arguing that the “reasonably foreseeable” clause is discriminating against her. The trial is expected to take place in the British Columbia Supreme Court in November 2019.
Robyn Moro. 68, had Parkinson’s disease and is also a plaintiff in the upcoming trial. She was initially denied eligibility for lethal drugs because her death was not “reasonably foreseeable”, but died by lethal drugs in 2017 after an Ontario Supreme Court ruling lead her doctor to change her mind.
An expert panel, commissioned by the Canadian government, released their reports on 12 December 2018 on whether the law should be extended to mature minors under 18, to people who have made advance requests before they lost mental competency, and to people with a mental disorder as their sole underlying medical condition.
The End of Life Choice Bill would be challenged also.
Gladu and Truchon argue that the requirement to be at the end of one’s life is ambiguous. They say it creates uncertainty, leading some people to die by suicide or a hunger strike.
Their lawyer, Jean-Pierre Menard, plans to argue that the Canadian and Quebec euthanasia laws infringe on their right to life and security as well as their right to equality.
Euthanasia-Free NZ is concerned that, if the End of Life Choice Bill is passed, it would also be challenged and extended in the name of “equality”.
“Once society moves from a blanket ban on assisted suicide to a law allowing exceptions, there would be no logical defense against adding more and more exceptions”, says Renée Joubert, Executive Officer of Euthanasia-Free NZ.
“A law that allows death by lethal drugs to a certain group of suffering people discriminates against other people who also feel they are suffering unbearably.
Since the Attorney-General’s report stated that the Bill discriminates on the basis of age, it is likely that eligibility would be extended to people younger than 18.
“Suffering is subjective and universal. It wouldn’t make sense to discriminate against people with non-terminal conditions or even people who are healthy but suffering in other ways.
“We don’t want anyone to suffer. The current law is not broken – the health system is. Many New Zealanders don’t have timely access to the tests, treatment and care they need. Many doctors are not trained in end-of-life care and pain management. There are too few Hospice beds. The mental health system is failing many families.
“Without equitable access to care and services, assisted suicide and euthanasia would not be a free choice.”
Euthanasia-Free NZ implores politicians to reject the End of Life Choice Bill and focus their energy on ensuring equitable access to health services in New Zealand.