By Angelica Ingram
Published May 24 2016
The assisted dying legislation also referred to as Bill C-14 has been making headlines in the news and is a topic of much discussion.
The issue was also the centre of discussion at the CARP annual general meeting held on May 15 at the Haliburton Legion.
As the former CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada Wanda Morris who now serves as CARP’s chief operations officer and VP of advocacy spoke candidly about the topic and her passion for the assisted dying movement.
“We could be like Woody Allen when we come to talk about death and what he said is I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there at the time” said Morris. “And I think for many of us as we age death is not the enemy. What some of us are afraid of though is a long painful dying process.”
Morris shared with the guests her personal experience with a relative who had dementia and the toll it took on family members.
“As sometimes happens he [the relative] became more and more aggressive” she said. “One day at lunch he slapped my sister-in-law across the face.”
The family decided to move the relative into a facility due to his deteriorating state however he became more aggressive and eventually the staff strapped him into his wheelchair.
“And that’s how he spent the last weeks of his life” said Morris.
As a result of this personal experience Morris began getting heavily involved with the Dying with Dignity movement and in shaping legislation around the topic.
Morris spoke of a court case known as the Carter case where nine Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that an individual who is was grievously and irremediably ill should have the right to an assisted death if their suffering was intolerable and there was no treatment acceptable to them.
“This then opened the door for assisted dying for individuals with terminal illnesses but it didn’t stop there the justices in their writing specifically noted that this was not just about terminal illness but more” she said. “It is that definition of grievously and irremediably ill that is at the centre of this current bill and the controversy around it.”
Morris went on to commend Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale for offering his constituents a referendum on the issue with a ballot voters can fill out indicating if Schmale should vote in favour or not of Bill C-14.
Mailed to all constituents in the riding the referendum offers every household member a vote on the bill which can then be sent back to Schmale’s office at no charge.
“I am writing to ask you for your opinion on what could be to my knowledge a first for voters in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock – a constituency referendum” it reads on the mailing. “Every bill appears before the House of Commons three times and is voted on twice. The timeline of his bill its debates and votes are tight and will be more compact than usual. The NDP and Conservatives have announced that this vote will be a free vote … This referendum is your opportunity to vote as dictated by your own conscience and beliefs.”
While members of parliament thought the vote may be taking place last week it has been postponed and now will not be taking place until the end of May at the earliest.
To that end Schmale is encouraging constituents to continue to send in their ballots either by email postage mail fax or by hand delivering it to his office.
“We want to thank all those constituents who took the time to bring in their ballots to meet the timeline” Schmale’s office wrote in an email. “As with the rules of this constituency referendum we will be releasing the results prior to the Third Reading vote in the House of Commons.”
More information on the referendum can be found at www.jamieschmale.ca.
At the AGM Morris encouraged those in attendance to fill out the ballot and vote with their conscience.
However the CARP representative did stress that the proposed legislation does not include many recommendations made on the subject and therefore the public should not vote in favour of the proposed bill to allow it to be revised.
“Here’s the deal with Bill C-14 … it should be available for mature minors … it should be available to those with mental health issues … and finally they recognized the unique problem of individuals with dementia” she said. “What was really surprising is when the bill came out … they took the Supreme Court’s decision and narrowed it … so now we have a bill that’s quite unclear … we’re better off with no law than a bad law.”
Shifting to her role with CARP Morris said she took the job with the organization to help people live with dignity particularly seniors.
Currently CARP is spearheading three campaigns the first being Feet to the Fire. The goal of this campaign is to keep the Liberal government accountable to the campaign promises they made during the last federal election.
The second campaign focuses on CPP enhancement as two thirds of Canadians don’t have pension plans. This campaign is also examining the type of financial advice seniors receive and what is most suitable for them.
The third campaign is about dementia and includes collecting stories about the disease and its impact on victims.
Following Morris’s talk CARP president Bob Stinson recapped the organization’s past year and the strides made.
Unfortunately the group lost two of their founding members following the deaths of Peter Minaki and Frank Thom.
Stinson spoke to their contributions to the group and the void they have left behind.
“I really miss them” he said.
A new slate of board directors was voted in and the financial statements were presented. CARP had nearly $2500 in funds at their end of March 2016.