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MP on end-of-life bills: ‘We can keep people alive. We can’t always allow people to live’

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher holds a news conference to discuss his two private member's bills on the right to die in Ottawa on March 27, 2014.


Conservative MP Steven Fletcher has crafted two bills that, together, would give Canadians more power to choose death over suffering.

The bills, which were introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday, are loaded with caveats to ensure that end-of-life decisions are made voluntarily by adults of sound mind who are fully apprised of their options.

The first bill would make the option of physician-assisted suicide available to patients aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed with a disease or disability "that causes physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to that person and that cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person ..."

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It also says the doctor who provides the diagnosis and the one who assists with the suicide must not know each other, that patients must wait at least 14 days between the request for suicide assistance and the time it is performed and be informed of all available treatments that could improve their quality of life. Two witnesses would have to attest that the patient is competent and the decision was made freely.

The second bill would create a commission to monitor the law and provide information about physician-assisted suicide.

The bills were seconded by Manon Perreault, a New Democrat MP who has been paraplegic since a horseback-riding accident in 1993. Mr. Fletcher became quadriplegic at 23 after his car hit a moose – a fact that has contributed to his interest in this issue.

Mr. Fletcher talked to The Globe and Mail about his proposed legislation.

What makes your bills different from previous attempts by MPs to change the law around assisted suicide?

These are substantial bills. I also didn't try to put everything in one bill. The previous bill was three or four paragraphs. What I am introducing are many pages of legalese. They take into account criticisms that have been expressed in the past. They have been heavily researched and bounced off academics in the field of physician-assisted suicide. What we have now is a bill with clear definitions. Because when people talk about physician-assisted death, that means different things to different people. So everything is clearly defined.

Your bill does not say a person would have to be dying to request physician-assisted suicide. Why not?

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You don't have to be dying to be suffering in pain indefinitely. I think of lots of situations where you could live a very long time but be in immense pain. And it would seem just cruel to force that individual to, potentially, spend years in that situation. Think of someone who was burnt over 100 per cent of their body. We can keep those people alive. But to what end? A lot depends on the age of the person. If it's a young person, they have their life to live. There may be things that they can do. My accident happened when my whole life was ahead of me. If my accident were to happen when I was 83, they could have kept me alive probably for years. But I just wouldn't want that.

Why did you introduce these bills when the Supreme Court is preparing to rule on assisted suicide?

Philosophically, I believe that these decisions should be made in Parliament. That having unaccountable, unelected judges – sometimes activist judges – making laws is not being part of a democracy. And, quite frankly, that's what all the parties are relying on – kicking it down the street to the Supreme Court to do what elected politicians should be doing, and that is debating issues that are important to Canadians, issues that may not have existed in the past but do now because of advances in technology. We can keep people alive. We can't always allow people to live.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More


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