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Protection of Conscience Project

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Service, not Servitude
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Letter to Members of Parliament and Senators

Parliament of Canada

Re: Bill C-14 ( medical assistance in dying)

23 May, 2016

. . . If it is "unacceptable" for Members of Parliament to use physical force against each other, surely it is "unacceptable" for state institutions or others to use the force of law to compel people to be parties to inflicting death upon others, and to punish those who refuse. . .

[Individually addressed]

On behalf of the Protection of Conscience Project I am writing to you concerning Bill C-14. The Project was an intervener in the Carter case at the Supreme Court of Canada. It does not take a position on the acceptability of euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The Project submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights by the deadline, but (like many others) it was not distributed to Committee members before they concluded their deliberations. In view of this, the time constraints and the serious nature of the subject, it was decided to write directly to Members of Parliament and Senators.

Enclosed is the amendment to Bill C-14 proposed by the Project. Ironically, perhaps, what the Protection of Conscience proposes is not a protection of conscience amendment. Instead, the amendment is limited to the criminal law, which is strictly and fully within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada. It uses the language of Bill C-14 and the criminal law: "inflicting death," homicide, suicide and the well-established and well-understood criminal concept of "parties" to acts.

The proposed amendment would establish that, as a matter of law and national public policy, no one can be compelled to become a party to homicide or suicide, or punished or disadvantaged for refusing to do so.

This would not prevent the provision of euthanasia or assisted suicide by willing practitioners, nor rational arguments aimed at persuading practitioners to participate, nor the offer of incentives to encourage participation.

The proposed amendment is an addition that does not otherwise change the text of Bill C-14. Nor does it touch the eligibility criteria proposed by Carter, nor the criteria or procedural safeguards recommended by the House Standing Committee or Senate Committee. It would not, in fact, affect any further revisions to criteria or procedures that might be adopted, whether they be more or less restrictive than the current text.

However, the amendment would prevent state institutions or anyone else fromattempting to force unwilling citizens be a party to killing someone or aiding in suicide. It would prevent those in positions of power and influence from harassing, punishing or disadvantaging anyone who refuses to be a party to inflicting death on others.

This is an eminently reasonable and fully defensible exercise of Parliament's jurisdiction in criminal law. It is justified by plans for policies to compel physicians and others to become parties to inflicting death upon patients, some of which are already in force in Ontario.

The proposed amendment does not infringe the constitutional jurisdiction of provinces in the administration and enforcement of human rights law. Nor would it interfere with the full and legitimate exercise of provincial jurisdiction in health care or the regulation of medical professionals. Rather, it would re-establish and preserve a foundational principle of democratic civility: that no one and no state institution should be allowed to compel unwilling citizens be parties to killing other people.

The importance of such foundational principles was demonstrated in the House of Commons on 18 May by the conduct of the Prime Minister, by the volcanic response to his conduct, and by subsequent comments and reflections by members of all parties, including the Prime Minister himself.


House of Commons, 18 May, 2016

The Prime Minister, apologizing, described his conduct as "unadvisable," "unacceptable," and "unbecoming of a parliamentarian." Members of his own party agreed that his conduct had to be taken "very seriously," that "physical intervention is never appropriate in this chamber," and that a member of the opposition directly affected by the Prime Minister's conduct was "justly aggrieved." The Minister of Health empathized and expressed her "sincere concern" for "the members who have been hurt by the incident." (See Hansard, 18 and 19 May, 2016)

Nonetheless, granted that the Prime Minister's conduct was a violation of parliamentary privilege, nothing he did was remotely comparable to forcing someone to be a party to killing another human being. That is a gross violation, not of privilege only, but of human dignity and basic principles of democratic civility.

If it is "unacceptable" for Members of Parliament to use physical force against each other, surely it is "unacceptable" for state institutions or others to use the force of law to compel people to be parties to inflicting death upon others, and to punish those who refuse.

To claim that Parliament must allow provinces to do this in the interests of "co-operative federalism" is like asserting that party members must turn a blind eye to the conduct of their leaders in the interests of party unity, or that a spouse must turn a blind eye to child abuse in the interests of preserving a marriage.

The enclosed amendment ought to be common ground in a sea of divergent opinions about euthanasia and assisted suicide. I earnestly recommend that you support it.

Sincerely


Sean Murphy,
Administrator

 

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