A New Term of Government Begins: Will It Be Open Season on People with Disabilities?

[14 August 1997] — On 2 June 1997, Canadians elected a new government. During the last session of Parliament, issues impacting on the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities made their way to the floor of both the House of Commons and the Senate: Svend Robinson attempted to legalize assisted suicide, Sharon Carstairs's Bill S-13 sought to protect from criminal liability health care providers who "administer medication in dosages that might shorten the life of a person..." and a Senate Committee report advocated the establishment of a new category of homicide, compassionate homicide. There is no reason to expect that these issues will be absent from Canada's Thirty-sixth Parliament.

Indeed, some prominent actors have been signaling their intentions already. Senator Sharon Carstairs has written to CCD describing her intentions with regard to Bill S-13, which died on the Order Paper as a result of the federal election. On 13 June 1997, she wrote, "[Bill S-13] generated a great deal of debate and some very positive and very negative comments. Of particular concern to many was the need for clearer guidelines andbetter definitions particularly for vulnerable people. The legislation is now undergoing revision, incorporating many of the suggestions. It will be reintroduced in a new form in the future. At that time, I will be pleased to receive your further comments."

On 2 July 1997, The Globe and Mail , via the editorial page, provided some counsel to the Liberal Government on legalizing assisted suicide. The Globe and Mail states:

"...Assisted suicide is not a constitutional right. It should, however, be a legal option.

How to make this a reality in Canada? The issue is divisive, and raising it is fraught with political costs. If the Liberal government is reluctant to address it, that is understandable.

There is, however, another way to deal with this. A bill on assisted suicide does not have to be a government bill. It could be a private member's bill...A private member's bill could be permitted to make it to committee, and that committee could then hold extensive hearings on the subject, eventually presenting a finished bill to the House of Commons. No need for the government to risk political capital on any of this: give the committee its independence, and make the Commons vote a free vote.

Or, perhaps more interesting, a bill ...could originate in the Senate...A committee could be struck, cross-country public hearings held, and a draft bill presented to the Senate for debate. Again no political capital at stake...

If the Senate passed a bill, the House of Commons could of course always vote it down. That would not be the course we would recommend—but at least, presented with Senate legislation, the Commons would have to consider the issue. And assisted suicide deserves lengthy, thoughtful consideration."

The presence of this editorial in The Globe and Mail indicates that there are powerful forces at work in Canada prodding the country down the road toward legalized assisted suicide.

Considering the clout that is being put behind the pro-assisted suicide cause, people with disabilities concerned about the fundamental human rights of people with disabilities need to be presenting our concerns to the broad spectrum of Canadian society. It is important to make these contacts before bills are introduced into the House of Commons.

Some suggested interventions that consumers might be interested in undertaking during the summer months:

Visit your MP.

Message: Canada prides itself on its human rights record. Legalized assisted suicide and compassionate homicide would threaten the human rights of people with disabilities. Vote "no" in any free vote on these issues.

Visit Liberal Caucus members.

Message: The Liberal Party of Canada is threatening the rights of people with disabilities when it passes policy resolutions supporting assisted suicide. Encourage the members to engage in dialogue with people with disabilities so that they can learn first hand that people with disabilities are not suffering. Many wrongly assume that people with disabilities are suffering and their misguided concern about this "suffering" leads them to support assisted suicide initiatives.

Write to Sharon Carstairs and express concerns about her legislative activity and copy your correspondence to the P.M.

Message: Doctors do not require any additional protections. Patients, particularly patients from marginalized groups in society, are the ones most at risk of having their rights infringed. Canada does not need a law which would further jeopardize patients' right to security of the person. It is a fallacy to suggest that bills like S-13 would increase citizens' autonomy.

Initiate a letter writing campaign.

Message: Write to the Minister of Justice urging her not to introduce legislation that would legalize assisted suicide. Other letter writing campaigns could focus on the Prime Minister or the President of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Write an op-ed piece for your local paper.

Message: Select one of the topics related to this issue and present your personal perspective on it. Possible themes: The Case Against Suffering, Why Safeguards Won't Work, How the Pro-Assisted Suicide Lobby Devalues People with Disabilities.

Respond to the Globe and Mail's editorial. letters@GlobeAndMail.ca .

Message: Assisted suicide should not be a legal option because vulnerable people who do not want to die will be killed, if assisted suicide is legalized. It is impossible to devise safeguards that will prevent this from happening. .

To promote our fundamental human rights, contribute to the Tracy Fund. (CCD, 926-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg MB, R3C 0B9.)