Paralyzed federal minister supports euthanasia, but would not vote on right-to-die bill

OTTAWA — A disabled federal cabinet minister who supports euthanasia says he will abstain from voting on a contentious right-to-die bill, even though he calls it “a provocative starting point” on the issue of assisted suicide.

 Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, a quadriplegic, says that despite his belief that terminally ill or physically disabled people should be allowed to choose death in some instances, he will not be voting yes to Bill C-384, a private member’s bill put forth by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde.

 “Yes, the bill would provide the terminally ill with more freedom to end their own lives with dignity,” writes Fletcher, 37, in an opinion piece appearing Monday in the National Post.

 “But it may also worsen the plight of the severely injured and ill by relieving the pressure on Canadians to come to terms with the more important challenge of providing the level of support required to make living the first choice.”

 Fletcher was an athletic 23-year-old engineering graduate when his car collided with a moose on a Manitoba highway, paralyzing him from the neck down and ending his ability to walk, touch, feel and breathe on his own. The accident left him in excruciating pain “that would make you welcome death,” he writes.

 In an interview with Canwest News Service, Fletcher said that although he feels that Bill C-384 is too broad, he hopes its underlying issues will spark meaningful discussion among Canadians.

 “An easy thing to do would be to just say, ‘The bill is flawed and I’m going to vote against it.’ But in the larger context, I think what is being talked about is much more profound. It’s really about, what does it mean to be alive?” he said.

 “At the end of the day, I think people should have the ability to choose. However, I_also want to challenge Canadians to provide the resources so that people choose life over death.”

 Fletcher, MP for the Winnipeg-area riding Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, is still engaged in a legal battle with Manitoba Public Insurance over issues related to his accident.

 Bill C-384 is being debated in the House of Commons, where it has reached the second reading stage — the furthest such a bill has gone in Canada. Lalonde was unavailable to comment.

 The bill would allow people with terminal illnesses and those who have tried or refused treatments and still experience severe physical or mental pain “without the prospect of relief” to qualify for medical assistance to hasten their deaths.

 The patient would have to be over 18, lucid, and request death on two occasions. The doctor would also have to get a second physician’s opinion.

 Doctors and disabled advocates have argued that such a law would be a “slippery slope” that would make certain demographics more vulnerable.

 Fletcher, first elected to Parliament in 2004, says he has a living will that allows the prospect of euthanasia under certain circumstances.

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