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Some Canadians still travelling to Switzerland to end their own lives

Quebec academic blasts politicians for lack of 'courage' in letter written before assisted death

CBC News

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a growing number of Canadians were travelling to Switzerland for help to end their own lives. This story has been updated with the correct numbers.

A small number of Canadians travelled to Switzerland to end their own lives last year, as Parliament passed a new law permitting doctor-assisted death that was widely criticized as too restrictive.

According to figures from Dignitas, a Swiss organization that assists patients with chronic or terminal illness to die, 131 Canadians became members in 2016, but only five travelled to Switzerland to end their lives, down slightly from seven the previous year and 11 in 2014.

Forced to die 'with strangers'

"I will die with strangers who are more courageous and humane than our doctors and our decision makers," she wrote in the letter, written in French and released by Dignitas. "I leave you hoping that our elected officials finally have enough courage and empathy to permit people who are suffering to decide the moment of their death, here in Quebec and in Canada. As a matter of fact, when you read this text, I will probably be dead. It's sad! Indescribably sad...."

In the letter, Hamel accused politicians of putting electoral interests ahead of patient care, and also lashed out at doctors who oppose more liberal assisted death, saying they want to preserve a "monopoly" over life and death decisions.

She said the current law forced her to die far from home and loved ones, and that she spent more than $20,000 in fees for medical verification and travel costs.

In 2016, there were 7,764 people from 98 countries who became members of "Dignitas, To live with dignity – To die with dignity," up from 6,595 five years ago. Last year, a total of 201 people travelled to Switzerland to end their own lives.

Canada's new law, which came into effect on June 17, 2016, limits assisted death to mentally competent adults who have serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, where death is "reasonably foreseeable."

Restrictions on minors, mentally ill

It excluded some of the most contentious recommendations from a parliamentary committee that studied the issue, including extending the right to die to "mature minors" and the mentally ill, and allowing advance consent for patients with degenerative disorders.

Shanaaz Gokool, the CEO of Canadian advocacy group Dying with Dignity Canada, said that excludes large swaths of people who should have been covered under the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the landmark Carter case which struck down the sections in the Criminal Code that prohibited assisted death. That's forcing people to travel abroad to die, she said.

"We would hope that with the Supreme Court decision on Carter that people wouldn't have to resort to these measures, and it's very unfortunate that people have to be separated from their friends, families, communities at their most vulnerable time in their lives, when they are having an assisted death," she said.

Julia Lamb, a B.C. woman with spinal muscular atrophy, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association launched a legal challenge of the new law, arguing it is too narrow.

Spurred by Supreme Court

The government was forced to draft new legislation after a unanimous landmark ruling on Feb. 6, 2015, by the Supreme Court of Canada, which found the ban on physician-assisted violated Canadians' Charter rights.

The case involved two B.C. women who wanted end their lives with medical help. Both died before the court ruled,

Gloria Taylor, who had a neurodegenerative disease, eventually died of an infection. Kay Carter, then 89, travelled to Switzerland.

Justices gave the federal and provincial governments 12 months to prepare for the decision to come into effect.

After taking office, the Liberal government asked for a six-month extension, but the high court granted an extra four months, to June 6, 2016, leading to a compressed law-making process.

David Taylor, a spokesman for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said independent reviews of three issues identified in Bill C-14 as requiring further study is now underway, with a report due by December 2018.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who chaired the special parliamentary committee that studied the issue, said he's disappointed by the pace of the review and called it "very concerning" that Canadians are forced to travel abroad to die.

Law needs more clarity

"I think Canadians need to understand that this is affecting real people and that we have to have better clarity in the Act to ensure it meets the Supreme Court expectations," he said. "To me, the Supreme Court was clear that an illness did not need to be terminal to be eligible."

Oliphant said he has received a number of emails, phone calls and letters from Canadians and family members who can't get the medical assistance they need and are either forced to travel to Switzerland or endure tremendous pain.

He said the recurring message is that Canadians should have a continuum of medical care that allows them full dignity.

"That's what the legislation needs to guarantee, that people are able to entrust their lives and their deaths in the hands of the physicians who will understand whether they have the right to end their own lives when a certain set of criteria have been met."

The special committee's 70-page report said Canadians should have the right to make an "advance request" for medical aid in dying after being diagnosed with certain debilitating but not necessarily terminal conditions.

It also said assisted death should not be limited to those with physical conditions, and that Canadians with psychiatric conditions should not be excluded from doctor assistance to end suffering.

Medically Assisted Dying Oliphant 20160227 Liberal MP Rob Oliphant chaired the special parliamentary committee studying medical assistance in death. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Corrections

This story has been edited from a previous version that incorrectly stated 131 Canadians travelled to Switzerland last year for medical assistance in ending their own lives. In fact, 131 is the number of Canadians who are members in an organization there that provides medical assistance in dying; only five Canadians travelled to the country last year to end their own lives.

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Making molehills into mountains: Adult responses to child sexuality and behaviour

Sexual behaviour among children can be perplexing for adults as they negotiate a spectrum of ideas relating to abuse and natural curiosity. In the search for understandings, adults can act in ways that close opportunities for children to explore and describe meanings for the behaviour. This article invites practitioners to check their assumptions in this kind of work, and to take a stance that opposes abusive actions – while taking up a position of enquiry to support the multiple stories that make up children’s lives.

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It is the secret dream of every Swedish or German woman to marry a black men, or at least have sex with a black man. Every smart young African man should migrate to Europe. Free money, nice house, good sex!

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Netanyahu Deals With Arson as a Terror Weapon in Israel

(HAIFA, ISRAEL) Wildfires tore across central and northern Israel on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee the city of Haifa, as leaders blamed arsonists for some of the blazes and branded them terrorists.

Television pictures showed a wall of flames raging through central neighborhoods of Israel's third largest city.

Firefighters dowsed a petrol station with water as the blaze edged closer.

The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds.

"Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters gathered in Haifa. "Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely."

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan referred to "arson terrorism" and said there had been a small number of arrests, providing no other details.

"It's likely that where it was arson, it goes in the direction of nationalistic," Police Chief Roni Alsheich told reporters, without going into further detail.

With fires burning in the forests west of Jerusalem, around Haifa, on central and northern hilltops and in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the government sought assistance from neighboring countries to tackle the conflagration.

Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey and Russia offered help, with several aircraft already joining efforts to quell the blaze, dropping fire-retardant material to try to douse the heaviest fires and stem their spread.

Netanyahu said he had asked for a "Super Tanker" fire fighting aircraft to be sent from the United States.

The Palestinian Authority had offered assistance as well, he said.

A thick haze of smoke hung over Haifa, which rises up from the Mediterranean Sea overlooking a large port. Schools and universities were evacuated, and two nearby prisons transferred inmates to other jails, a prisons service spokesman said. Patients were moved out of a geriatric hospital.

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