A public meeting about physician assisted dying filled every seat in the Township Civic Facility’s Fraser River Room on Saturday.
Moderated by Frank Bucholtz, the meeting drew roughly 250 people and gave speakers an opportunity to provide feedback to local MPs Mark Warawa and John Aldag.
The Supreme Court has instructed Parliament to create legislation on physician assisted dying.
Warawa – the Langley-Aldergrove MP, and Aldag – the Cloverdale-Langley City MP, are on a special joint committee that will report to the government.
It was an at-times emotional meeting that included a first-hand account of a loved one lost, as well as arguments opposing physician assisted dying.
The Supreme Court requires Parliament to create a carefully designed system that imposes strict limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced, Warawa said.
“It’s important that we look carefully at what the Supreme Court requires us to do,” he added. “This input was very helpful.”
Aldag said he was encouraged by the large turnout and “the engagement of our constituents on this important issue.”
“Canadians understand that physician assisted dying is a personal and complex issue and this was evident at the session,” Aldag said, adding that the government needs to ensure there are appropriate safeguards put in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
“We need to respect the medical community and the concerns they have with this issue and work with them to move forward,” Aldag said. “We also saw that some of the public is still misinformed about certain aspects of this issue and this is one of the reasons we wanted to engage with them in this townhall.”
The committee is currently meeting at least five times a week, Aldag noted, and hearing from representatives of various organizations.
The goal is to draft a new law ahead of its prospective June 2016 deadline – based on the government’s four-month extension granted by the Supreme Court.
The committee will report back with legislative recommendations by Feb. 26.
Among the speakers at Saturday’s meeting was Dr. Margaret Cottle, a palliative care physician and expert on the subject. She said “physician-hastened death” should not be made easy.
“That’s a big mistake to make it easy,” Cottle said. “In fact, it’s not what the Supreme Court said: to look at the ruling, it says it should be the exception, rather than the rule.”
Cottle recommended that physician assisted dying take place in a separate facility specifically designed for this purpose alone. This would include information, counselling, and referral, with people who are “very well trained to do this [procedure].”
“There could easily be a separate facility. It’s not like the person is going to be there for very long, we’re not going to be worried about blocking beds or anything like that, but what it does, is it removes this from everyday medical services,” Cottle elaborated.
With a separate facility, when a person goes to “regular services” they have “no fear that their life is going to be taken against their will,” Cottle said. “They know that if they go to this place, that is what the purpose is for.”
She noted that in palliative care, every patient request for “physician-hastened death” is not about wanting to die: it’s about intolerable suffering at some level.
“These patients and our society deserve that we as Canadians continue our compassionate heritage of caring for people,” she added. “We learned how to fish in the North Atlantic and farm on the Prairies, for heaven’s sakes, we can learn how to care for people well when they are in difficult circumstances.”
Those comments drew hearty applause from the crowd.
She also believes that the federal government should be involved because this issue transcends healthcare.
“This is a philosophical idea about how to deal with human suffering, it’s not health care per se,” she said. “Because of this, we need to be very strict and protect the rights of physicians and other health care professionals to opt out completely from being involved…”
She added that the waiting period should be commensurate with how much time the patient has to live, and what they would lose.
For feedback purposes, each attendee was given a form with simple yes/no spaces to fill, along with their contact information.
• Should PAD legislation guarantee the right of conscience of individuals, organizations, and institutions to not participate in or refer for physician assisted dying?
• Should palliative care be required to be offered to a competent adult requesting physician assisted dying?
• Should continuous consent be required from a competent adult requesting physician assisted dying?
• Must a person suffer from a terminal illness in order to qualify for physician assisted dying?
• Should an effective independent adjudication be required for approval of physician assisted dying?
• What should be the age of a competent adult requesting physician assisted dying?
• Do you believe that a proportionate waiting period be included in the legislation?
Close to 200 comment forms were filled out. Warawa hand-delivered them to clerks of the special committee Monday morning, along with the briefs that were submitted.