News / Vancouver

B.C. advocates in last-ditch push before Ottawa right-to-die vote

Doctor-assisted suicide bill closer to becoming law, but both sides appear unhappy.

Margot Bentley, left, poses for a photo in 1996 before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, beside her daughter Katherine Hammond.

Courtesy of Katherine Hammond

Margot Bentley, left, poses for a photo in 1996 before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, beside her daughter Katherine Hammond.

Both sides of the doctor-assisted suicide debate are ramping up their last-ditch efforts to persuade MPs expected to vote on right-to-die legislation in Ottawa this week.

The federal Liberals are under fire from all sides over Bill C-14, which would legalize medically assisted suicide for consenting adults suffering from “intolerable” illness, but only those who face “reasonably foreseeable” death.

Few advocates appear happy with the bill. But Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould defended her legislation as a cautious first step that balances a “challenging issue for all Canadians.”

Ladner resident Katherine Hammond’s 84-year-old mother Margot Bentley has had Alzheimer’s for 18 years, the last five in a vegetative state in an Abbotsford nursing home, despite documenting her advance wish to die in her 1991 living will.

Hammond said the Liberals’ refusal to include advance requests, and those not facing “reasonably foreseeable” natural death, in their bill “really shocked and incredibly disappointed” her.

“It absolutely falls short,” she told Metro. “My mom has been forced to live way, way, way beyond what she wanted. Our government is not recognizing her rights.”

But in an April 22 House of Commons debate, Wilson-Raybould said “more study” is needed on advance consent, because “the risks of error and abuse increase when a person is unable to confirm previously stated wishes.”

Disability rights groups are also opposing the bill. Michael Bach, executive vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, warned it doesn’t include enough safeguards for people with mental health and intellectual disabilities.

“People will be vulnerable to being induced to die under this system,” he told Metro. “We need to be doing everything we can to address people’s suffering, but to terminate people’s lives for mental health conditions is profoundly problematic.”

The justice minister and Vancouver-Granville MP said her bill addresses such fears, hence its limited scope to clearly consenting adults facing foreseeable death. “Nor should it suggest that dying is an appropriate response to a life with disability,” she told parliamentarians.

But by excluding many non-terminally ill patients, the bill violates their Supreme Court-recognized rights, countered Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which led the Supreme Court challenge that prompted the legislation.

“This bill infantilizes a whole class of patients,” he told Metro. “It treats them like children: ‘We don’t think you should be able to make a decision for yourself.’”

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