May 28, 2024

Canada moves toward euthanasia for children

Canada is moving rapidly towards an even more permissive euthanasia regime. A report by the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying to Parliament makes several recommendations which have been widely criticised as dangerous and even reckless.

Prisoners: prisoners should have the same access to healthcare, including MAiD, as those living in the community. Several prisoners have already died under MAiD in Canadian prisons. However, the report recommends compassionate release into the community so that prisoners whose death is reasonably foreseeable can die outside the Big House.

“Mature minors”. The recommendations for euthanasia for children are highly controversial. At the moment, the cut-off for eligibility is 18, but the MPs want to permit younger people to access MaiD if they are “mature minors”.

There is no defined age at which a child becomes a “mature minor”. In the Netherlands 12-year-olds can be given euthanasia. In Belgium there is no age limit as long as a child has the “requisite capacity”. Could a 9-year-old make a serene and fully informed request? The report suggested that the term be defined more carefully.

The report recommends that mature minors be allowed to access euthanasia, but only if their death is reasonably foreseeable. Should their parents be involved? Not necessarily. The report recommends that “where appropriate, the parents or guardians of a mature minor be consulted in the course of the assessment process for MAiD. However, “the will of a minor who is found to have the requisite decision-making capacity ultimately take priority.”

So, it is quite conceivable that the parents could find out that their child had asked for and been granted MAiD only after the child is dead. It would be even more tragic if she were only 9.

Furthermore, although the report recommends caution, it notes that it may not be constitutional to limit requests to children whose death is “reasonably foreseeable”.

Advance directives. The report endorses “advance requests following a diagnosis of a serious and incurable medical condition disease, or disorder leading to incapacity”. In other words, people will be able to request that they be given a lethal injection after they have lost full capacity because of dementia. The discussion in the report appears to assume that the request should be written, but, tellingly, does not specify this. So it might be possible for relatives to remember verbal instructions made when a person was compos mentis.

Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, commented: “The recommendations being put forth by [the committee] would give Canada the most permissive euthanasia law in the world. Given the current state of Canada, where vulnerable people continue to be pressured to euthanasia on a frequent basis, it is inappropriate for the government to consider these radical expansions to the euthanasia law. There should instead be a greater focus on how governments in Canada can help people who may be feeling that their life is not worth living.”