Lee Berthiaume Published: February 23, 2014, 10:09 am
Updated: 13 hours ago
MONTREAL — Federal Liberals have passed a controversial resolution calling for the de-criminalization of medically-assisted suicide during their policy convention here Sunday.
The resolution is timely as Quebec is on the verge of adopting a law to the same effect, while the Supreme Court of Canada has said it will revisit the matter for the first time in more than 20 years.
Yet it is also extremely divisive, as evidenced by the number of Liberal delegates who wanted to speak on either side of the issue before the matter went to a vote.
“We share the concerns of the most vulnerable populations, especially people in the disability community,” said Liberal delegate Wendy Robbins, who spoke in favour of the resolution. “It covers health, it covers justice. We think we have the right to die with dignity.”
At the same time, a number of delegates opposed to the issue said the priority should be better palliative care and ensuring people die in comfort.
“The danger is, the more we focus on ending life, the less we focus on ending pain and suffering or the use of technologies to overcome disability and loss of function,” said one delegate who identified himself as a doctor.
In the end, Liberals voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion, which could put pressure on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to include it in his platform during next year’s federal election.
There is a clear precedent for a policy resolution being adopted at a Liberal convention and later finding its way into Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s plans as delegates agreed in January 2012 to legalizing marijuana, which Trudeau has taken to championing.
Yet the Liberal leader has been extremely guarded on medically-assisted death, saying only that it is worth discussing and debating but also voicing reservations.
“I have a concern that until we have quality palliative care in this country for everyone who needs it, euthanasia could sometimes be a shortcut,” he told students at Ryerson University in Toronto in September.
“And I know in many cases it wouldn’t be. But if we’re not getting quality, end-of-life care, then there is an idea that maybe it would be cheaper or easier to simply engage in that. And that’s one of my real concerns about going down that path.”
The resolution passed Sunday calls for medically-assisted death to be de-criminalized after a public consultation that will establish rules on accessing and monitoring the process.
Two separate proposals had been championed by the party’s women’s commission and its youth wing before being merged into the resolution adopted by delegates.
Euthanasia has emerged as a hot political topic given Canada’s aging population and several high-profile cases, including one legal challenge in British Columbia that the Supreme Court said Thursday it would hear.
The Supreme Court last addressed the issue in 1993, when it delivered a landmark 5-4 ruling against physician-assisted suicide, and its decision to revisit the matter is considered significant.
At the same time, the Quebec government has also proposed legislation that, if adopted, would make the province the first in Canada to legalize euthanasia.
Physicians themselves are torn, with a Canadian Medical Association poll last year finding only one in five doctors would be willing to help a patient end his or her life if euthanasia were legalized.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Health Minister Rona Ambrose have said the Conservative government has no interest in re-opening a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.