A backbench Conservative MP from Winnipeg who lost the use of his arms and legs nearly two decades ago is preparing legislation that would give Canadians more control decide to when their lives should end.
It is a debate that the Conservative government has avoided even as some provinces, especially Quebec, move forward with their own laws on assisted suicide.
Steven Fletcher, a former parliamentary secretary for health and a former minister of state, will introduce two private member’s bills on Thursday – one that would allow doctors to help people die under a restricted set of circumstances, and one that would set up a commission to monitor the system.
Mr. Fletcher, who has been a quadriplegic since his car hit a moose in 1996 and who has previously spoken in favour of increased options for people to end their own lives, said it is an issue Canadians want to discuss.
“It would be greeting an opportunity to empower individuals in end-of-life decisions where at present there is no choice,” he told reporters after a Conservative caucus meeting on Wednesday morning. “And as technology has advanced so much in the last many years, and life expectancies have gone up, there are situations that could not even be imagined even 20 years ago when was the last time the Supreme Court looked at this issue with Sue Rodriguez.”
In a split decision, the top court ruled in 1993 that Ms. Rodriguez, a 43-year-old British Columbia woman who was facing an agonizing death from the paralysis associated with ALS, did not have the right to decide how and when she would die.
Mr. Fletcher said the important thing is to let people live and die the way they wish. “Right now we are going all right on the living side,” he said, “but on the dying side we have no choice.”
The MP would not say what his Conservative caucus members are saying about his proposed legislation. “I have not asked for support,” he said, “but I have asked for people to listen to the debate.”
Justice Minister Peter MacKay did not express much enthusiasm for Mr. Fletcher’s bills.
“His personal circumstances obviously inform his view on this very emotional issue,” Mr. MacKay said of the Winnipeg MP. “And it is a very important issue for everyone. Having said that, the House of Commons debated this issue not that many years ago. And my own view is I am hesitant to reopen this debate at this time.”
There are factions of the Conservative caucus that would strongly oppose any loosening of the laws around assisted suicide. Mark Warawa, the Conservative MP for Langley in B.C., for instance, said Wednesday that Mr. Fletcher can introduce any bill he wants, but it would be better to improve palliative care than legalize euthanasia.
There have been nine attempts by MPs, since the court ruled in the Rodriguez case, to introduce private member’s bills on assisted suicide, including one from Bloc MP Francine Lalonde that was handily defeated in 2010.
But that bill was just four paragraphs and the wording was not very good, said Mr. Fletcher. “What you will see tomorrow is a very comprehensive piece of legislation ...”
The Supreme Court of Canada has already agreed to take another look at the right to an assisted suicide.
The hearing, probably several months away, will focus on two B.C. women, 64-year-old Gloria Taylor, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, and 89-year-old Kathleen Carter, who had a degenerative spinal condition. Both are now dead.
Meanwhile, several provincial health ministers have urged that the issue be taken up. Quebec introduced legislation to set the legal terms for euthanasia, but it has been stalled as a result of the provincial election.
With files from Josh Wingrove, Bill Curry and Sean Fine