It's time to talk about assisted suicide: Ontario health minister -

It’s time to talk about assisted suicide: Ontario health minister


TORONTO – Ontario’s health minister says it’s time for Canadians and their leaders to talk about assisted suicide, but the federal Conservatives are making it clear that they have no intention of reopening that emotionally charged debate.

“We have no desire to reintroduce legislation that would open this issue up,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.

“There’s no denying that this touches a lot of people and it is a very emotional, very personal subject.”

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Canada. But Canadians need to talk about the taboo subject and end-of-life care, said Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.

“I think it’s about the community having the conversation, I think it’s about people having the conversation,” she said.

The Quebec government has tabled right-to-die legislation, the first of its kind in Canada. But Matthews said it’s up to the federal government to decide whether it should legalize assisted suicide.

The issue resurfaced recently after a prominent doctor made an impassioned, videotaped appeal to legalize assisted suicide just a few days before his death.

Dr. Donald Low, who guided Toronto through the 2003 SARS crisis, asked that Canada allow people to die with dignity, eight days before he died from a brain tumour last week at age 68.

“Donald Low’s video was very powerful and many people have personally experienced it,” Matthews said.

“There are strong opinions on this. I think it’s a conversation we need to have.”

MacKay said he also saw part of the heart-wrenching video, which was released Tuesday.

“It’s an understatement to say these are very complex and emotionally charged issues in every instance,” he said.

MacKay said he’s talked about it with fellow Conservative Steven Fletcher, who is a quadriplegic and supports assisted suicide.

“He holds a very personal view and a very personal perspective, given what Steven’s been through in his life,” MacKay said.

“Having said that, it is a very slippery slope when one starts to contemplate the various scenarios and the range of circumstances in which people can find themselves,” he said.

“We’re into the area of moral questions. And I simply do not believe it is in our best interest to open up the debate or to bring forward legislation that would change the current laws that are meant to protect people from abuse.”

In the video, Low said he is not in pain but his vision, hearing and strength are waning and he worries what will happen before the end.

It will be a long time before Canada matures to a level where it accepts dying with dignity, he said. But he pleaded with opponents of assisted suicide to reconsider.

If they lived in his body for 24 hours, they’d change their opinion, he said.

Some oppose legalizing assisted suicide on religious grounds, while others believe that it could lead to euthanasia without consent of people with mental illness, physical handicaps or the elderly.

The Quebec government is already holding public hearings on its legislation which would outline the conditions necessary for someone to get medical assistance to die.

The federal government plans to review it.

Matthews said she’d be surprised if the topic doesn’t come up when provincial, federal and territorial health ministers meet in Toronto on Sept. 27.

But she wouldn’t divulge her own view about assisted suicide.

“Of course, I have strong personal opinions. I think everybody does,” she said. “But I’m not speaking as a person, I’m speaking as health minister for Ontario.”

Right now, her priority is to improve end-of-life care in Ontario, including palliative care to hospices, she added.

Talking about end-of-life options is a pressing issue as the baby boom generation ages, said Ontario NDP health critic France Gelinas.

“Not that long ago, people went to hospital to die. This is where death happened,” she said.

“Baby boomers are not satisfied with this. … They realize that there are ways to support a dying person that is way better than dying in a hospital.”

People should talk about it so they can learn more about the options and make up their mind on what they think should be done, she said.

— With files from Diana Mehta.


It’s time to talk about assisted suicide: Ontario health minister

  1. The issue has already been decided….the govt now has to play catch-up….as usual.

    Thank you to Ont’s Deb Matthews for saying so.

  2. We treat dogs with more compassion than our suffering family members and friends. Time to look at this indeed.

    • Agreed

  3. I want to talk about assisted suicide like I want to talk about abortion. I seriously hope Wynne loses the next election.

    • I hope she doesn’t for this reason alone. I also hope you never have a terminal illness.

      • Wow. How very nice and Liberal of you to go around wishing pain and suffering on folks you don’t know. Change your name from Gota Say to Mao or Stalin. Anyway, I probably will have a terminal illness given that my I’ve seen many in my family die of terminal illnesses. When that happens, though, I think I’ll let it run its course.

        • I wished you would not get a terminal illness – what part of that do you not understand ?

  4. Here’s all you need to know about Deb Matthews…and after bringing it up in the first place:

    “But she wouldn’t divulge her own view about assisted suicide.

    “Of course, I have strong personal opinions. I think everybody does,” she said. “But I’m not speaking as a person, I’m speaking as health minister for Ontario.”

    • This is all we need to know – Her personal feelings have nothing to do with politics.

      • Do you think for a minute that her personal feelings have nothing to do with what she’s saying? Her personal opinion informs her politics. Or maybe she’s superhuman. Saying her personal feelings have nothing to do with her opinions is duplicitous. And that is all you need to know about her.

        • She is elected to represent the people – her personal convictions are secondary to the public will.

  5. Let’s take a step back from the partisan rhetoric and have a mature conversation on this issue.

  6. Not to be too cynical about it, but would it be fair to speculate that perhaps those in the palliative care field have a vested interest in opposing physician assisted suicide.