We’ve seen a lot of fireworks in the Alberta Legislature but nothing can match the rhetoric and misinformation that characterized the response of the Wildrose (and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives) to the government’s motion to regulate medical assistance in dying.
On Feb 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that refusing to provide medical assistance in dying violates a citizen’s fundamental rights and freedoms.
On Apr 14, 2016 the Trudeau government introduced Bill C – 14 to amend the Criminal Code by creating an exemption to the offence of culpable homicide where a competent adult suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes him/her enduring, intolerable suffering clearly consents to his/her death.
On May 31, 2016 the Alberta government introduced Motion 17 to give Cabinet the power to finalize regulations to provide medically assisted death to eligible Albertans under certain conditions.
And on June 6 medical assistance in dying (MAID) becomes a reality.
The government proposed Motion 17 to address this reality.
It sets out draft regulations that allow Albertans to access MAID, provides safeguards to protect vulnerable Albertans, protects the conscience rights of those who don’t want to participate and ensures accountability by creating a monitoring and regulatory process.
Wildrose MLA Ron Orr characterized the motion as “an earthquake motion”. He said “the social terra firma of western society, which has been stable for centuries, all of a sudden, [and] without warning, gave a little bit of a rumble and today, without warning, split wide open.”*
Mr Orr’s comment is 18 months too late. Medical assistance in dying has been in the works ever since the Supreme Court released its decision.
Mr Orr’s reaction was indicative of the Wildrose’s response—instead of debating the merits of the Motion the Wildrose galloped madly off in all directions.
Forget the law
Unlike the Progressive Conservatives, many Wildrose MLAs refuse to concede that the issue of medically assisted dying was closed when the Supreme Court rendered its decision.
Grant Hunter said “To simply accept the Supreme Court’s decision as ubiquitous is perhaps the high-jurisprudence equivalent of the naturalistic fallacy that exists in philosophy.” He argued that just because the Supreme Court “concluded that a right to suicide is, paradoxically, a part of the right to life should not mean we should accept legalized suicide as a new moral or a new normal.”**
Ms Soapbox has no idea what Mr Hunter is talking about but it sounds like he’s saying it’s okay to ignore the law.
The power of love
Mark Smith’s key argument was that euthanasia and physician-assisted death are the result of a lack of love.***
He suggested people seek physician-assisted death not to alleviate pain but out of fear—fear of losing control, losing personal autonomy and becoming a burden to loved ones.
He said people will choose “natural death” (whatever that means) when their fear is allayed by proper palliative care, psychosocial counseling and the knowledge they are loved.
He concluded that “Love…not physician-assisted death, is the answer.”
Love as the basis of analysis of Motion 17? Maybe you had to be there.
Mr Strankman asked a rhetorical question: “Who the H do we think we are to legislate life and death?”****
He said he’d heard from five people on the issue, noting that many of them were “churchgoing people.” He asked: “Does that provide special insight into it? I don’t know. They feel it does. It gives them insight into what they believe is another sphere.”
Ms Soapbox does not have insight into another sphere and is not qualified to comment.
Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, Mr Orr raised a frightening scenario. If we allowed the NDP Cabinet to finalize these regulations what’s to stop a future cabinet from enacting regulations that allow the euthanization of a troubled teenager on the referral of his teacher without his family’s knowledge.*
That’s so farfetched it doesn’t merit a response.
Lack of public consultation
A more legitimate complaint was that Opposition had not been given sufficient time to get input from their constituents.
However this was not an issue for the NDP MLAs. Maria Fitzpatrick sought feedback from her constituents six months ago on the recommendations for assisted dying prepared by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA).
Greg Clark (AP) consulted with his constituents and stakeholders the weekend prior to the debate and decided to support the motion. Dr David Swann (Lib) spoke eloquently in support of the motion as well.
Neither the Wildrose nor the PCs had a satisfactory response to the NDP’s point that it had consulted with 15,000 Albertans through an on-line survey, created an MLA Consultation Panel which met with stakeholder groups including Indigenous peoples, physicians and ethicists, and received 31 submissions from groups representing doctors, palliative care nurses, psychologists, social workers, lawyers, the Council of Imams, Catholic Bishops, faith-based healthcare providers and university faculties like medicine, nursing, and philosophy.
Lack of preparation
Some suggest that the government and the medical profession are unprepared.
Dr Trevor Theman, Registrar of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) bristles at this allegation, noting that in 11 years as registrar he’s never seen such a high level of preparation and collaboration among Alberta Health, AHS, and the healthcare regulators for medicine, nursing and pharmacy.
A review of the CPSA recommendations in support of medically assisted death bear this out.
They complement Motion 17 and if the Opposition had bothered to review them they would have discovered that many of their concerns (eg providing a cooling off period and providing information on other treatment options like hospice care and pain control) have been addressed.
Bottom line: The Alberta government did a good job of preparing Alberta for the reality of medically assisted death under less than ideal circumstances.
It ceded its debate time to the Opposition to allow for healthy debate. The Wildrose squandered its time and the PCs rejected the government’s work but failed to offer an alternative.
As a result, the legitimate concerns of a few opposition MLAs were swamped by meaningless rhetoric and shameless grandstanding for the folks back home.
What a waste.
*Hansard, May 31, 2016, 1334, 1335
**Hansard, June 1, 2016, 1393
***Hansard, June 1, 2016, 1389
****Hansard, June 1, 2016, 1396