Campaigners have labeled a plan by a Canadian parliamentary committee to expand the assisted suicide program to terminally ill children as “reckless” and “terrible.”
They told DailyMail.com that sick and disabled children could soon join the 10,000 or so adults who end their lives each year through state-sanctioned euthanasia in the world’s most permissive such program.
In his long awaited reportthe Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) recommended that “adult minors” whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable” should have access to assisted suicide, even without parental consent.
The report and its 23 recommendations will be debated in the House of Commons in the coming months and could lead to revisions to Canada’s assisted suicide laws as early as this year.
“I think it’s horrible,” says Amy Hasbrouck, who campaigns against MAiD for the group Not Dead Yet.
“Teenagers are not in a good position to judge whether they commit suicide or not. All the teenagers with disabilities, who are constantly told that their life is useless and pathetic, become depressed and of course want to die.’
Mike Schouten, whose son, Markus, died of cancer aged 18 last year, said it was “reckless” to allow young people to end their lives on doctor-prescribed drugs.
There were more than 10,000 deaths from euthanasia in 2021, an increase of about a third from the previous year
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, another campaigning organization, said Canada has been on a dangerous “slippery slope” in spreading assisted suicide widely since the law was introduced in 2016.
“We said we would have precautions and guardrails, but the next government can just open it up further by making a decision – and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Schadenberg said.
After hearing some 150 witnesses and reviewing hundreds of briefings, the Joint Committee of Canadian Politicians concluded earlier this month that children who can make competent decisions should have access to MAiD.
Witnesses had told members that children were ill-equipped to make such a weighty decision, that they were more vulnerable to outside pressures than adults, and that there was no turning back from an irreversible decision.
Still others noted that poor Canadian children may already decide not to receive life-saving treatment for their condition, even if it hastens their death.
In the end, members agreed that children with a terminal illness, most likely between the ages of 14 and 17, could be affected by many factors and that ‘the right to MAiD should not be denied on the basis of age alone’.
In their 138-page report, members said the procedure — usually a lethal injection administered by a physician — should be available to “adult minors … whose natural deaths are reasonably foreseeable.”
They also called for more research into minors’ experiences of assisted suicide and for an independent panel of experts to investigate criminal issues surrounding children’s access to MAiD.
It remains unclear whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government would immediately push for expanded access to children. This month, ministers postponed plans to extend MAiD to the mentally ill by a year.
Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), called the committee “reckless” and urged MPs to ensure that “the committee’s recommendation does not become law.”
Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), urged MPs to ensure that ‘the committee’s recommendation does not become law’
Alex Schadenberg (left), executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and Amy Hasbrouck, of the group Not Dead Yet, say politicians should not expand access to MAiD
“There would be a vigorous debate and hopefully people would make the right decisions, although we don’t have much confidence in some of those institutions at the moment, given our current cabinet,” Schouten said.
Schouten’s son, Markus, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in February 2021 and died just 15 months later, on May 29, 2022, at age 18, after multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and 25 radiation treatments.
His father said a child-assisted suicide law would have told his son that caretakers had “given up” on him.
Speaking with his wife, Jennifer, Mr. Schouten told the Canadian Parliamentary Committee: “Giving some minors the right to petition puts all minors and their families in a position where they are obligated to consider.”
Campaigners often highlight the case of Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer who was convicted of murdering his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, in 1993. He said it was a mercy killing because of the chronic pain associated with her severe cerebral palsy.
Many Canadians support euthanasia, and the campaign group Dying With Dignity says the procedure is “driven by compassion, an end to suffering and discrimination, and a desire for personal autonomy.”
But human rights advocates say the country’s regulations lack necessary safeguards, devalue the lives of disabled people and push doctors and health professionals to introduce the procedure to those who might not otherwise consider it.
The Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) recommended that “adult minors” whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable” should have access to assisted suicide even without parental consent
Markus Schouten was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in February 2021 and died just 15 months later, on May 29, 2022, at the age of 18, after multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments
It is not yet clear whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (centre) Liberal government would immediately push for increased access to assisted suicide for children
Euthanasia, in which doctors use drugs to kill patients, is legal in seven countries – Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain – plus several states in Australia.
Other jurisdictions, including a growing number of U.S. states, allow assisted suicide, in which patients take the deadly drug themselves, usually crushing and drinking a lethal dose of pills prescribed by a doctor.
In Canada, the two options are called MAiD, although more than 99.9 percent of such deaths are euthanasia. In 2021, there were more than 10,000 deaths from euthanasia, an increase of about a third from the previous year.
Canada’s path to allowing euthanasia began in 2015, when the Supreme Court declared that banning assisted suicide deprived people of their dignity and autonomy. It gave national leaders a year to draft legislation.
The resulting 2016 law legalized both euthanasia and assisted suicide for people ages 18 and older, provided they met certain conditions: they had to have a serious, advanced condition, illness or disability that caused suffering and threatened their death.
The law was later amended to allow people who are not terminally ill to choose death, greatly expanding the number of eligible people. Critics say the change removed an important safeguard aimed at protecting people who might have years or decades to live.
Today, any adult with a serious illness, condition or disability can seek help when dying.
Wires contributed to this report.