Bioethics Blogs

Incremental medical assistance in dying

Stuart Chambers comments on the incrementalism that characterizes the Liberal government’s legislation on medical assistance in dying.


It appears that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not the only advocate of incrementalism as an effective way to bring about societal transformation. In policy circles, incrementalism involves taking small steps towards a policy objective whilst avoiding grand, politically divisive gestures. When it comes to legislation on medical assistance in dying, Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould seems to have adopted a similar political strategy.

The proposed legislation, Bill C-14, is intended to “hug” the constitution as closely as possible—and that’s all.  In this way, the government hopes to make the legislation more palatable for the general public and to move forward in stages so as to not offend the sensibilities of the more than four-in-five Canadians who already support assisted dying for the terminally ill.

No doubt, one’s evaluation of incrementalism as an effective policy strategy will hinge on what political goals are attainable.  In this instance, euthanasia advocacy groups, such as Dying with Dignity Canada, reject incrementalism not only because of its slow operation, but also because some elements of the Liberal government’s approach to assistance in dying appear arbitrary.  Some fear that correcting these elements will invite costly constitutional challenges.  Yet, pragmatists find incrementalism a realistic and gradual way to pursue needed reforms, and this appears to be the preferred method of policy-making for the Liberal government.

The proposed law will not be as permissive as recommended by a Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.