The controversial debate around medically assisted suicide took centre stage in Langley this past week. Despite the contentious nature of the issue, discussions appear to have been largely respectful and constructive, leading up to new federal legislation on the matter.
Events that have taken place in the last week have resulted in Liberal MP representing Cloverdale — Langley City, John Aldag, engaging with his constituents, listening to concerns about the legal frameworks and safeguards that will regulate the practice of medical professionals helping sick Canadians end their lives.
Aldag's counterpart in the Langley — Aldergrove riding, Conservative Mark Warawa, who sat on the Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, with Aldag, meanwhile, released his own statement in response to the drafting of Bill C-14.
"I am very concerned that there are serious gaps in the legislation," his statement read, citing a lack of protection for doctors who are morally opposed to helping patients end their lives.
“The priority of Parliament is to ensure that this legislation includes safeguards to protect the most vulnerable Canadians, and that the conscience rights of physicians and health professionals are protected,” continued Warawa. “I will continue to push for appropriate safeguards. It is imperative that this bill is written correctly.”
Aldag had a group of about 40 demonstrators outside his constituency office on Wednesday afternoon, expressing opposition to the bill.
Aldag said he welcomed the protest and was happy to speak with its participants.
“It was excellent. It was respectful,” he said. “There was some very well-articulated concerns that they were bringing to me.”
One of the protestors, Tamara Jansen, said she was happy to see Aldag come out of his office and speak with her group.
“I think that we had a very respectful conversation between both sides and I just wish that we could have those kinds of conversations and truly listen to each other,” she said.
Jansen attended the protest as a member of the Association for Reformed Political Action, a national Christian organization.
“We need to make sure something like the sanctity of life is not stomped on,” she said.
There would be fewer people with terminal illnesses seeking assisted deaths if modern palliative care were more available, according to Jansen.
Forum facilitates discourse
Aldag said there are indeed big improvements to be made in making palliative care available across the country. At a forum held at Martha Currie Elementary School, on Thursday evening, he said that currently less than 30 per cent of Canadians have access to palliative care.
He said his government has pledged $3 billion to improve end-of-life care but conceded that it wouldn’t be enough to cover “the other 70 per cent.”
Aldag gave the dozen forum attendees an overview of Bill C-14 and its restrictions. He said the bill was narrowed to only apply to “mentally competent adults” for now but could be expanded in the future. He said his party would re-assess the issue five years from now and look at the possibility of including allowances for “mature minors,” mental health patients and for advanced directives.
“Let’s be cautious to start with,” he said, pointing out that there was some urgency to passing some kind of legislation before the June 6 deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It’s very limiting, even though I know it’s a wonderful step,” said Bonnie Stewart adding that she was concerned about how the law wouldn’t apply to both herself and her 45-year-old mentally challenged daughter.
Stewart said she wants the bill to include advanced directives which would allow her to establish what she would want to be done, in the case of her being incapable of making end-of-life decisions for herself.
“If I drove home from here and I (was left in ) a coma by a car accident, there’s nothing I can do about it. My doctor knows that I don’t want to live.”
“For 30 years I have had lawyers [and] representative agreements. Everyone knows it; our doctor knows it; everybody that’s in our life, our circle of friends knows it, but if something happens… That’s all null and void.” said Stewart.
Some categorically opposed, based on religion
The majority of attendees who asked questions and shared their opinions with Aldag had similar concerns that the legislation would not go far enough, including a man who said if he had a stroke, he didn’t want “to be a vegetable.”
But a few attendees spoke in opposition to the bill, citing their Christian faith as a reason.
One woman said that life must be respected and just because someone wants to die when they are sick, it doesn’t make it right for them to do so.
“Canada will not be glorious and free if we allow anyone to do what they want,” she said.
This led to the most heated moments of the evening. The man who expressed concern about having a stroke responded, saying “your beliefs do not trump my rights.”
Aldag said he was thankful for the concerns brought to him by his constituents and indicated he would use at least some of them in writing a speech he will give concerning the bill in the House of Commons next week.
“I want to be able to include in my comments [that] I have been out in my community and these are the types of things that I have been hearing.”