MP Ted Falk, the Conservative Justice Committee co-chair, introduced a number of amendments to strengthen the safeguards in assisted-suicide Bill C-14, including one for a prior judicial review. They were defeated at the May 9 meeting. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Safeguards to assisted suicide quashed by Liberals

  • May 10, 2016

OTTAWA – Several opposition amendments intended to inject safeguards into the federal government's assisted-suicide legislation, including a proposal to explicitly limit doctor-assisted death to the terminally ill, were defeated as Liberal-dominated committee hearings began.

Members of the Justice Committee who are undertaking a clause-by-clause review of Bill C-14 on assisted suicide made it apparent that the legislation is unlikely to see significant amendments before it is returned to Parliament for final reading and vote.

About 100 requests for amendments have been submitted. The Supreme Court has given Parliament until June 6 to amend the criminal code to legalize assisted suicide.

In addition to voting down an amendment on May 9 to restrict assisted suicide to the terminally ill, the committee also rejected significant amendments from Conservative MPs that would: require a judicial review of all assisted-suicide requests; require patients who can self-administer a suicide drug do so in the presence of a health professional; ensure those with underlying psychiatric conditions receive a psychiatric evaluation; ensure people have proper information about palliative-care and pain-management options; require ministerial sign-off for every assisted suicide.

New Democratic Justice Committee co-chair Murray Rankin met with similar defeat when he introduced an amendment to allow advanced directives for those diagnosed with dementia. However, the Liberals suggested they would be open to reviewing the matter later this year.

Conservative MP Mark Warawa, who introduced a private member’s bill on May 5 to protect conscience rights of medical professionals, is also pushing for an amendment to Bill C-14 that would allow doctors to refuse to participate directly or indirectly in assisted suicide.

Conservative MP Ted Falk, a committee co-chair, said he was concerned the bill made no statement with respect to the “sanctity of life,” and that it has insufficient safeguards. The Supreme Court never stated that people had an absolute right to assisted suicide, but ruled that exemptions to the law be permitted in certain cases, he stressed.

Falk said in an interview he put forward the amendment to require judicial review prior to all assisted suicides so that “a judge will take a look and make sure all the boxes are checked, that witnesses are eligible to be witnesses and the individual has met all the conditions.”

A prior judicial review has been called for by disability advocates and groups such as the Canadian Association for Community Living, L’Arche Canada and the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.

Having an assisted-suicide request go before a judge would make sure “psychological evaluations are happening and people receiving physician-assisted suicide are doing it with a clear mind,” Falk said.

“I think when it comes to this piece of legislation, if I’m going to err on anything, I’m going to err on the side of caution,” Falk said.

In opposing the amendment, Liberal MP Chris Bittle argued it would “make a lot of lawyers rich” and make medical-assisted dying “only available for the rich.”

The Justice Committee scheduled extended hours to expedite the passage of Bill C-14, which could go to the House of Commons for a free vote before May 21, before being sent to the Senate.

Despite howls of protest from the opposition, the Liberal majority government shut down debate on Bill C-14 on May 4, sending it to committee for amendments following a second reading vote of 235-75.

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