The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) is very encouraged by the findings of the Federal Panel report on physician-assisted suicide, released today by the Government of Canada. Key among the findings from a survey of almost 15,000 Canadians (including a representative sample) was that about
50% support the establishment of an external mechanism to ensure that every request for physician-assisted suicide meets legal requirements, prior to it being granted.
CACL has urged the federal and provincial/territorial government and professional associations that advance independent review of requests is essential to protect the physician role, and to safeguard vulnerable patients.
Joy Bacon, CACL President, said, "We are so encouraged to see that the concerns we have about how physician-assisted suicide could undermine the integrity of the physician role in the health care system, and leave vulnerable people with intellectual and other disabilities at risk, is shared by such a large proportion of Canadians." Michael Bach, CACL Executive Vice-President, said, "This report is a very rich source of data and perspectives from Canadians from all walks of life. The findings make clear that a large majority of Canadians believe that a system for physician-assisted suicide needs very robust safeguards, including national palliative care, home care and disability supports strategies. Canadians with intellectual and other disabilities will be hampered in making informed and voluntary choices if they don't have needed palliative and disability supports available, and the majority simply don't."
As the Special Parliamentary Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying begins its hearings, CACL urges that the findings of this report be given detailed consideration. CACL believes they point to strong public support for safeguards to protect vulnerable persons from being induced or coerced into requesting assisted suicide - including advance independent review and the need for vulnerability assessment, for which the Federal Panel report gives significant attention.
CACL respects the Charter-protected right to physician-assisted suicide for people who are suffering because of grievous and irremediable medical conditions, including for people with intellectual disabilities. We will work to ensure that a robust safeguards system upholds the Supreme Court of Canada's restriction on eligibility of persons who may be induced to commit suicide in a time of weakness.
The Federal External Panel report shows, without a doubt, that a large group of Canadians share our concerns and support establishment of safeguards to assure access, protect the vulnerable, and specify physicians' roles, responsibilities and criminal liability under the system.
The full report is available in English here and in French here.