Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag speaks on physician-assisted dying at a forum Wednesday at Ocean Park Community Hall.

Legislators face death head on

MP encourages attendees of South Surrey physician-assisted-dying forum to make their end-of-life wishes known.

Talking about death – particularly his own – hasn’t exactly been a comfortable thing for John Aldag.

But the Liberal MP for Cloverdale-Langley City said he has realized its importance, through his work on the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.

“I like to pretend that it’s not going to affect me, ever,” Aldag said Thursday, the morning after hosting a forum on physician-assisted dying in Ocean Park.

The committee work “just really opened up that need to talk.” A chance to ask questions of Aldag about the 21 recommendations the joint committee submitted last week around legislation mandated by the Supreme Court drew an estimated 80 people to Ocean Park Community Hall Wednesday.

Attendees were “very engaged, (with) lots of very difficult questions that are not easy to answer,” according to Aldag.

Questions ranged from how the medical community will ensure criteria around physician-assisted dying are met, to who would have the ability to request an alternate decision-maker and if the option would apply only to people with a terminal illness.

“What it showed is there’s real interest… to learn about what is being considered.”

The Supreme Court ruled in February 2015 that people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a doctor to help them die, and gave the federal government a year to craft legislation around it. That timeline was later extended to June.

In the meantime, those wanting a physician-assisted death can seek an exemption through the courts – an option that enabled a Calgary woman with late-stage ALS to exercise her right to die Tuesday in Vancouver.

The woman’s death emphasized the reality of physician-assisted dying as a viable option, Aldag said.

“This is here, it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen in Canada,” he said. “As legislators, we need to look at not if it’s going to happen, (but) how it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, who can have access.”

Aldag encouraged forum attendees to continue the conversation with their loved ones, to be sure their own wishes around death and dying are clear.

“As Canadians, we don’t spend a lot of time talking about that,” he told PAN. “I’ve become a strong proponent for having these discussions now.”

Wednesday’s forum was hosted by the South Surrey-White Rock Federal Liberal Association.

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