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Catherine Frazee Says Her Assisted Suicide Beliefs Won't Affect Panel Recommendations

A panellist chosen to help guide federal government on how to implement doctor-assisted dying is dismissing concerns of bias.

OTTAWA — A panellist chosen to consult with Canadians and recommend to the federal government how to implement doctor-assisted dying is dismissing concerns she and another member will let their personal views taint the panel’s recommendations.

Catherine Frazee, a professor emerita at Ryerson University who served as a witness for the Conservative government’s court case opposing doctor-assisted death, told The Huffington Post Canada that the “personal views of panel members will not drive this process.”

Frazee has championed the full social inclusion of people with disabilities. She has written columns opposing medically assisted death, suggesting that it would reduce the equal worth and the dignity that she feels, as do others who are are bound to a wheelchair and “cannot bathe, or breathe, or swallow or feed without the aid of some device.”

The chair of the three-member panel announced late Friday is also a former witness for the government against doctor-assisted dying. Harvey Max Chochinov is a University of Manitoba psychiatry professor and the Canada research chair in palliative care. The other member of the panel is Benoît Pelletier, a former Quebec provincial cabinet minister and a constitutional expert.

“While each panel member holds their own personal opinions as individuals on this issue, they each respect the Supreme Court decision and are not being asked to revisit that decision,” Frazee said in a statement emailed to HuffPost.

“All three panel members are interested in having a respectful and open discussion with Canadians that is as inclusive of the diversity of opinions on the subject, as possible. We need to meet and set our course forward before further specific views can be offered,” she said.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s executive director Josh Paterson said he was “deeply concerned” by the panel’s impartiality.

“Whatever the panel recommends,” he said, “the law is clear that Canadians must have access to this constitutional right.”

Paterson said it was encouraging to hear the panel say they wouldn’t let their personal views taint the process but his group would be “watching” to make sure that was the case.

“Regardless of them saying that, it is very difficult to get around the appearance of a bias in this,” he said in a phone interview.

“I say this without any disrespect to any members of the panel, because they are all well-respected people in their own right, but when you have people appointed to hear from Canadians on this who are so thoroughly invested in one side of the issue and were involved [as] witnesses for the government as they tried to oppose [the right to physician-assisted death], it can’t help but raise questions among Canadians as to the kind of hearings that we are going to get in this panel,” he said.

“I would have thought it very unusual if I had been appointed to the panel. I’m clearly identified publicly and have been long involved with pushing forward this right. I clearly have a pre-existing commitment on this issue,” Paterson added.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is also concerned submissions to the panel may be kept anonymous.

The government announced Friday that the panel would report back in late fall — after the federal election — with options for responding to the Supreme Court ruling. Last February, the top court unanimously court struck down a prohibition on physician-assisted death and said people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should have the right to ask a physician to help them die. The court gave Parliament 12 months to draw up legislation to respond to its decision.

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