A photo of the Senate Chamber July 2014. The Senate passes the amended Bill C-14, which makes assisted suicide more accessible, on June 15 Photo/Courtesy of Tony Webster, Wikimedia Commons

Senate passes amended assisted suicide Bill C-14

  • June 16, 2016

OTTAWA – Canada’s Senate passed an amended version of euthanasia and assisted suicide Bill C-14 June 15 that is almost certain to face backlash from elected Parliamentarians as it is sent back to the House of Commons.

The Senate passed the amended bill by a 64-12 vote, with one abstention. The amended law makes a number of changes to the law passed in the House earlier this month, including deleting the provision, put forward by Senator Serge Joyal, that those who can access assisted suicide must be near death. The amended bill greatly widens the eligibility criteria. 

The Liberal government has signalled that it won’t accept the Senate proviso, though it may be open to six other changes passed in the Senate.

The amended bill didn’t gain as much support in the Upper Chamber as the numbers would suggest however. Senator Peter Harder for one voted for the bill rather than have it defeated altogether. He said defeat of the amended bill would bring the law down and result in an intolerable situation that would be unacceptable to Canadians.

Conservative Senator Don Plett, who is opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia on principle, said he did not want to see the bill defeated, even though he preferred the bill as it had come from the House of Commons. He urged Senators not to reject the bill if it comes back without all the amendments accepted. “Defeating it again, colleagues, is the worst thing that we can do, in my opinion.”

The third reading debate that preceded the vote saw impassioned speeches on all sides of the debate, especially from those opposed in principle to euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Senator Betty Unger said she spoke for the many who “weep that Canada’s moral fabric is being destroyed” and “dearly held values are being shredded.”

“I propose to you that if this legislation was for a clear moral good, there would be no need for debate,” she said. “I do not know which is more alarming, the fact that we are on the wrong road or the fact that we do not recognize it and that so many are cheering.”

She warned the Senate had dismissed many safeguards, so “the innocent are certain to be killed.”

Unger also took aim at the Supreme Court of Canada.

“The Supreme Court has supplanted our elected parliamentarians by foisting judge-made law on Canadians,” she said. “Although parliaments across the nation could invoke the ‘notwithstanding’ clause to ensure that this decision receives its proper deliberation, they seem unprepared to do so.”

Most Senators, who had approved the Joyal amendment to replace the original bill’s definition of “grievous and irremediable” to bring it more closely in line with the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, did so because they argued the bill would not withstand a Charter challenge and was therefore unconstitutional. The original Bill C-14 made only those whose death was “reasonably foreseeable” eligible for an assisted death, similar to the Quebec legislation which limits eligibility to those who are terminally ill.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould had circulated a paper among the Senators recently that argued Bill C-14 is Charter compliant even if it does not echo the Carter decision in every respect. 

Senator Andre Pratte who, like the majority, supported the Joyal amendment as constitutional and the right thing to do, said he was haunted by the question of what happens next if the House sends the bill back to the Senate “having rejected some or most of our amendments.”

“Should we defer to the House or stand our ground?” he asked. “I'm very much concerned about how Canadians will react in the case of a legislative deadlock.”

Joyal responded to the speculation concerning what will happen if the amended bill is refused and comes back to the Senate with no or only some amendments. 

“Honourable senators, I would say cool off,” Joyal said. “Ask yourself who we are and where you come from. You have been appointed here to be independent of an electoral mandate.”

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