Wording change may derail progress in assisted dying law

by Penelope Graham10 Jun 2016
The legislation to fully legalize physician-assisted dying in Canada has hit a roadblock in the Senate, and may face “weeks or months” of additional debate.

The Senate has voted 41 - 30 to remove language from Bill C-14 that specifies only patients whose deaths are “reasonably foreseeable” qualify. The wording has been highly contested by critics of the bill, who argue it creates a grey area as to who is eligible for doctor-assisted death.

Liberal Senator Serge Joyal is among supporters of a broader eligibility definition, referring to original wording put forth by the Supreme Court that all Canadians with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” with “enduring suffering” qualify.

The Senate will move forward with additional recommended amendments, after which the Bill will return to the House of Commons, where it may face additional red tape.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told reporters that Bill C-14 was the result of “incredibly hard” work from the government, and that the removal of the “foreseeable future” language could lead to more safeguards being added. It is not yet clear how long it will take before final legislation is passed.

However, several provinces have taken initiative in the meantime, implementing no-prosecution policies to protect healthcare workers participating in assisted deaths. Alberta was the first to issue a hands-off directive to police earlier this week, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia.

“When charges are assessed on a case-by-case basis, the conditions of physician-assisted death set out in [the Supreme Court ruling] should be applied to physicians and to other health care professionals involved in carrying out, or providing information about, a physician-assisted death,” stated the latter’s Criminal Justice Branch in a news release.

Currently, Ontario is refusing to issue such a directive, insisting all medically-assisted deaths be reported to the Office of the Chief Coroner.

Still no law in legal physician-assisted deaths
Assisted dying bill voted through to Senate