Senator Denise Batters’ committee presented 10 ammendments for Bill C-14 to the House of Commons on May 17. Photo courtesy of Denise Batters via YouTube

Senators want changes to assisted suicide Bill C-14 before Parliament votes

  • May 25, 2016

OTTAWA – A Senate committee has recommended that the government amend its controversial assisted-suicide bill to limit access to the terminally ill and to imbed conscience rights for institutions and health workers before the legislation is put to a vote in Parliament.

Making these changes now, as the June 6 deadline fast approaches, could speed approval of the bill when it is sent to the Senate, said Senator Denise Batters.

Batters is a member of the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee that reviewed the government’s Bill C-14. It presented the House of Commons with 10 amendments on May 17.

Typically, Senate amendments are proposed after legislation is passed in Parliament and sent to senators for final approval. But Batters is hoping the government will see where the Senate is leaning and make changes now in order to send senators a bill that has a better chance of speedy consent.

“This is the perfect time,” said Batters. “The Liberal government can work in a number of these amendments.”

Batters said if the government passes the existing legislation, “it will be no surprise” if the Senate sends it back to the House with “the exact same recommendations” that it is now proposing.

The government failed to obtain a third-reading vote before it adjured May 18 after its schedule was derailed by the Justin Trudeau elbowing incident and subsequent uproar. Following a one-week break, Parliament reconvenes May 30 and is expected to call a vote on Bill C-14 in the following days.

After 20 hours of meetings, and hearing from 66 witnesses, the  11-member Senate committee, comprising seven Conservatives, recommended adding “terminal illness” and “end of life” to the criteria for obtaining an assisted death. It also supports a waiting period of 15 days (extended to 90 days for those with underlying mental health conditions) and wants provisions to ensure those likely to benefit financially from a person’s death cannot counsel suicide or sign for patient.

Batters said Canadians have shown consistently in polling and in the number of witnesses the Senate committee heard they “expect terminal illness and end-of-life be required” to access assisted death. The present wording of a “reasonably foreseeable death,” could apply to anyone, Batters said.

On conscience rights, the Senate has recommended provisions to protect the conscientious and religious freedom rights of not only health care practitioners, but institutions as well. They should be free to refuse “aid in the provision of medical assistance in dying” without fear of sanctions, according to their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This is the position being vehemently advocated by Catholic healthcare practitioners, institutions and  their supporters, including Canadian bishops.

The Senate has exercised its role of providing “sober second thought” and “independence in good guidance,” Batters said. “We’ve done exactly that here.”

She said that for the government to ignore the Senate amendments “would not be a good idea.”

“I’m anxious for the government to really take this seriously. Otherwise they won’t be surprised to see we will come up with the same amendments in June.”

Many pro-euthanasia groups have argued restricting assisted death to the terminally ill would fail a legal challenge, but constitutional lawyer Gerald Chipeur disagrees.

If the government comes back with a complex regulatory regime, the Supreme Court “will give it a high degree of deference,” Chipeur said. “It will be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada and will survive any constitutional challenge.”

Chipeur also predicted the Supreme Court would interpret Bill C-14’s present language of “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable,” as having a terminal illness similar to that of the Quebec law. He noted the Supreme Court had granted an exemption to Quebec to go ahead with its euthanasia law which went into effect last December.

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