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A special parliamentary committee has written a report on policy recommendations for the government. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)
A special parliamentary committee has written a report on policy recommendations for the government. (iStockphoto/iStockphoto)

Right-to-die report will call for prior consent in dementia cases Add to ...

A special parliamentary committee will propose Parliament adopt a new physician-assisted dying law that includes advance consent for people in early stages of dementia, sources say.

In a report to be tabled in Parliament Thursday, sources say the joint Commons-Senate committee will also address how doctors should deal with people with debilitating mental disorders and young people enduring painful and terminal illnesses.

The report recommends the government should first see how medically assisted dying works with adults before allowing it for children or people with mental illnesses.

Some MPs had argued for prior judicial approval for an assisted death, but the committee decided it should be left to the medical profession to decide in a sensitive team-based way, sources say.

“We trust our medical professionals with our lives every day,” Liberal MP and committee co-chair Robert Oliphant told The Globe and Mail. “And this is a committee that also understands that we can trust them with our deaths.”

The report is also expected to outline areas in which the federal government should consult with provinces and territories, as well as issues not directly in the committee’s mandate, such as palliative-care strategy to discourage people from opting for medically assisted death.

Mr. Oliphant said most Canadians will be comfortable with the report, which includes safeguards for vulnerable people.

“We have given a framework for the [Justice] Minister to consider, and it will be her job to take that framework and decide what has to be in legislation and what has to be in policy,” Mr. Oliphant said.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the century-old law banning physician-assisted death was unconstitutional and that Canadians with unbearable and irremediable suffering could be eligible to end their life with a doctor’s aid.

The Conservative caucus is split on the contentious report with senators signing on to the majority opinion. Conservative MP and vice-chair Michael Cooper said only MPs are part of the dissenting report.

“The report got some things right but some things wrong. And we felt there were some glaring errors with recommendations in the report,” Mr. Cooper said.

“We just felt that as Conservative MPs we owed it to our constituents and to Canadians to raise some issues that we felt were not adequately addressed in the main report.”

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told The Globe and Mail that Tory MPs have decided to make a “political statement” on doctor-assisted dying.

“I suspect it will talk about protecting the vulnerable but, you know, everyone who is suffering is vulnerable,” Senator Nancy Ruth said. “The report itself does protect the vulnerable in my opinion, very strongly, even more strongly than I would have probably, perhaps even personally, have wanted. So it’s a compromise and I think it’s a fair report. I think the minority report is unnecessary.”

Mr. Oliphant said the Conservatives MPs who dissented to the report haven’t accepted that “dying is a part of life.”

“I honestly believe that the Conservative MPs – not the senators – Conservative MPs disagree fundamentally with the Supreme Court decision, and have at every opportunity found ways or tried to find ways that would tie up access to assisted dying in such a way as to make the Supreme Court of Canada decision null and void,” Mr. Oliphant said.

Liberal Senator James Cowan said the majority of MPs and senators of all parties believe the committee has struck a balance that places trust and responsibility in the medical profession to make the right decisions about end-to-life care.

“It’s not going to be what everybody wants but I think it’s a good piece of advice for the government,” Mr. Cowan said in an interview.

The recommendations are the result of months of public consultations; they will be turned over the Justice Department to draft a new law by the June 6 deadline set by the high court. The main object of the federal legislation is to set a common national framework and avoid a patchwork system of end-of-life care.

“The committee made an honest effort to try to listen to witnesses and to come forward with a consensus that seems to be addressing the fundamental issues raised by the decision of the Supreme Court,” Liberal Senator Serge Joyal said in an interview.

The Supreme Court judgment ending the ban on assisted dying was set to take effect on Feb. 6, but the federal government obtained a four-month extension during which those seeking this outcome must get approval from court.

The Liberals initially said they were going to whip the vote to support doctor-assisted dying legislation, but later backtracked, saying they would wait for the committee’s report and the bill to be introduced before making that decision.

Quebec already has its own law, which came into effect Dec. 10. Since then, one patient in Quebec City’s university health-care network received a doctor-assisted death.

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