The Canadian prison system has loosened its policy for terminally ill inmates to receive medically assisted death. Prison watchdogs call for a more humanitarian and compassionate parole option.
Canadian prisons are filling with more sick, mentally ill and elderly inmates, according to a report cited by CBC News.
Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger said the 2017 guidelines for medically assisted death breach the system’s legal and ethical obligations, reported CBC News.
“Practically and perceptually, I simply cannot imagine a scenario where it would be considered acceptable to allow an external provider to carry out a MAID (medical assistance in death) procedure in a federal penitentiary,” Zinger wrote to Canadian prison officials.
“I do not see how such a decision could be publicly defended by the service or minister, on any ground.”
According to the report, medically assisted deaths are to be carried out in a “community hospital or other facility — but the procedure can take place in a penitentiary regional hospital or treatment center in exceptional circumstances and at the request of the inmate.”
There are procedures for terminally ill inmates to be released from Canadian prisons via “parole by exception.” However of the offenders who died in prison, 88 had applied for parole by exception and were denied, deemed ineligible or died before having a hearing or decision. Three who were granted could find no available bed in the community, according to a report CBC News cites.
Offenders who were successful in obtaining a “parole by exception” for palliative care reasons and died in the community were not included in the report.
According to the report cited by CBC News, there were 132 non-natural deaths in prisons over the seven-year period. The report noted that while the number of deaths by suicide in prison has been declining, the number of overdose deaths — increasingly caused by the opioid Fentanyl — is on the rise.
Because care for chronic and terminal illness is “extremely inadequate,” Adelina Iftene, a prison law expert at Dalhousie University, said she worries a growing number of inmates will choose assisted death as a “way out” to escape pain.
“I don’t really think we can talk about meaningful, voluntary consent when somebody is giving it from behind prison walls without the option of choosing palliative care,” she said.