Justin Trudeau Photostream
By: Dana Wagner on
Jane Philpott, Health Minister and MP for Markham — Stouffville, in an interview on June 16, 2016
Yes, “end-of-life” appears 17 times in the court decision that struck down the ban on physician-assisted dying. But that doesn’t support the government’s position that assisted dying be only for those near death. It appears in an array of different contexts, some relevant, some not.FactsCan Score: Misleading
Just before breaking for the summer, Parliament passed a new physician-assisted dying law. It wasn’t certain that the law would pass both the House of Commons and the Senate by the end of last week, because the Senate sent the bill back to the House with amendments. The House accepted some changes, but rejected others, including one intended to expand who gets to use assisted dying.
In a Supreme Court ruling last year know as the Carter decision, the Court found that the ban on physician-assisted dying for those with “grievous and irremediable” conditions violated their Charter rights. This wording prompted a debate about who should access assisted dying: Those who are terminally ill and near death, or, in addition, those who are suffering and not necessarily near death. The government favoured a narrow wording, defining the users of the law as those whose death is reasonably foreseeable.
“We were very concerned by the potential extraction [by Senate amendments] of the phrase that refers to the fact that a person’s natural death is reasonably forseeable,” Jane Philpott, the health minister, said in an interview with CBC before the bill passed.
Philpott argued the government’s wording fits the Carter decision, which also told Parliament to create an assisted dying law. The decision has been named often to support different opinions on who should access physician-assisted death, and how.
“When I examined that decision of the Supreme Court, it talks 17 times in the decision about end of life. It talks about the fact that they were examining end-of-life care, that they were looking at end-of-life decisions,” Philpott said.
She added, “I encourage people to have a look at the Carter decision, I’ve read it several times myself.”
We did too. Perhaps like Philpott, we used Ctrl-F to find the 17 references, plus read the whole thing. And we found that referencing the 17 uses of “end-of-life” to support the government’s position is misleading. Some of these references are pretty unhelpful when read in context.
For instance, in paragraph 23, “end-of-life” is used three times to introduce the content of the paragraph, summarize a trial judge’s opinion, and then quote that same opinion. So the three uses is more like one use. Elsewhere, after describing the contents of a Quebec law, the wording appears in its title, An Act respecting end-of-life care.
If Philpott’s reasoning held, that 17 uses of “end-of-life” supports a narrow law, then one could also argue for a broad law on the basis of Carter’s 18 references to “grievous and irremediable” and “grievously and irremediably.”
Further unhelpful counting includes 13 uses of “intolerable” and 27 of “suffering.”
What might be more persuasive is the content of the Supreme Court’s concluding paragraph. Here, “end-of-life” does not appear:
“Section 241 (b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringe s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
Philpott’s number is irrelevant, and misleading.