Binkley Report — The right to die


Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ... 

The Binkley Report

Ducking a tough one — the right to turn out the lights

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Photo: Phylicia Torrevillas/Metro Vancouver  

We hear all the time about the raucous and boorish behaviour of our MPs and the poisoned atmosphere in Parliament. Unfortunately, the observations are mostly accurate.

However, a group of Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats have shown it doesn’t have to be that way. They overcame the narrow mindedness of their leaders to work together to establish common ground on matters that should concern all Canadians.

Lamentably, they didn’t get much credit for their work from the mainstream media.

In the previous Parliament, Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde introduced a private member’s bill to allow chronically ill people to seek assistance in ending their lives to end their suffering. Opposition MP’s initiatives usually have the proverbial snowball in hell’s chance of passing and Lalonde’s was talked out.

However, the reaction to her bill inspired MPs to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care “dedicated to improving care for elderly, dying and vulnerable Canadians.” They justifiably boasted in their recent report to the Commons that their endeavour “is unique in the history of the Canadian Parliament as it was formed by the MPs on their personal initiative and funded out of their member office budgets.”

While the MPs made a passionate case for improving suicide prevention and the treatment of elderly and vulnerable Canadians, they ducked on euthanasia. That’s probably why the media paid little attention.

Days before they released the report, a B.C. woman with Lou Gehrig's disease launched a legal challenge to the law that prevents doctors from helping someone end their life. It came almost two decades after another B.C. woman, Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from the same debilitating disease, fought a long and unsuccessful campaign for the right to end her pain.

Gloria Taylor, 63, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis two years ago and now uses a scooter to get around, but she knows the condition will eventually paralyze and kill her.

Although she has already lived longer than doctors predicted, Taylor says her condition deteriorates every day and she wants the ability to decide when she has had enough.

“It is cruel and inhumane to force me to suffer a long, prolonged death,” Taylor says. “It is my life, my body, and it should be my choice.”

At about the same time, the Royal Society of Canada said it is time that public policy on end-of-life issues be revisited. It wants the Criminal Code to be amended to permit euthanasia and assisted suicide.

It says public support for the decriminalization of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia is high among Canadians and it calls for a “permissive yet carefully regulated and monitored system” for assisted death.

The panel said it carefully considered Canadian values, international evidence, and legal and ethical arguments to reach that conclusion.

“The evidence from other jurisdictions ... does not support claims that decriminalization will actually result in vulnerable persons being subject to abuse or a slide down a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia,” panel chair Udo Schuklenk said at a news conference.

“Assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia should be legally permitted for such competent individuals who make free and informed choices that their life is not worth living, to them – that's the important bit – so nobody will make those decisions on their behalf,” he said.

Many MPs on this committee opposed Lalonde’s bill so it’s not surprising they don’t support euthanasia. But not talking about it won’t make it go away. They should have admitted that it is a deeply divisive issue and perhaps suggested what factors need to be considered in any future discussion of it.

There’s a lot of meaty material in the report on other issues that we will look at in future columns.

It’s available at

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