Stephen Fletcher was the MP for West Winnipeg for 11 years. He served five of those in Stephen Harper’s Cabinet. He’s also a quadriplegic.
In 2014, he introduced a pair of pioneering private members bills to legalize physician assisted death. Neither passed – but when the Supreme Court struck down the ban on PAD, it used much of Fletcher’s language.
Today, he reacts to Ottawa’s report setting the stage for doctor assisted death.
LISTEN: Guest host Drex and Stephen Fletcher on the long road to Physician Assisted Death
Fletcher says on the whole, he found the report thoughtful, and in keeping with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“One of my concerns was that they would drift away from the Supreme Court ruling and try to bureaucratize this issue to death, which is not uncommon to happen to Ottawa on any kind of issue, but they didn’t do that – they stuck close to the Supreme Court, I think the spirit and the law.”
Of course, he says, the devil is in the details, so he’s reserving judgement until he sees what the legislation actually says.
End of life, not suicide
Fletcher says he understands concerns from people who fear PAD could be used by people who are experiencing mental illness and looking for an avenue for suicide, and says resources need to be in place to help those people. But he says from what he’s seen the test for PAD would be high enough to prevent it being abused.
“We need to focus on providing more resources for mental health issues and palliative care, and the disabled. We want people to choose life – that’s number one. of course that’s number one… What is important is that for the vast majority of people this will bring peace of mind – that they will not have to die a terrible death as with happened with Sue Rodriguez who had ALS.”
Fletcher says he’s encouraged by recommendations in the report that set out guidelines that would let someone make their end of life wishes known now, so that if they were to lose competency later in life – say, to Alzheimer’s – it would erase any questions.
“That is one of the more significant recommendations. Having introduced the legislation and all of the feedback I’ve received I’ve come to the conclusion that that provision is probably necessary.”
And while the government has a monumental task ahead of it, drafting strong yet compassionate legislation on a difficult topic by June, he says he’s not worried. If they miss the deadline, he says, the Supreme Court’s ruling which contains much of his private members bills will become the law of the land.
He says if there is one thing that concerns him, it’s that the law will be too cold and bureaucratic, lacking humanity and respect for an individual’s own decision in the matter.
“Only in Ottawa could someone red tape this. Who wants someone in Ottawa to tell them what is right for themselves?”