Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen here in March 2016, said his government does not want to affect the balance in Bill C-14 that they have achieved, rejecting the Senate's amendments. Photo/Courtesy of Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada via YouTube

Government rejects Senate’s assisted-suicide amendment

  • June 16, 2016

OTTAWA – The Liberal government today said it will reject a Senate amendment that would remove the requirement that death be reasonably foreseeable from its assisted suicide bill.

The Senate passed an amended version of Bill C-14 June 15 by a 64-12 vote, with one abstention. The upper chamber proposed seven amendments, the most controversial being one that removed the reasonably foreseeable death requirement and replaced it with language from the Supreme Court’s Carter decision that broadened eligibility to almost anyone who felt they had an intolerable medical condition.

This sets the government up for possible deadlock with the Senate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, answering questions from reporters at a news conference in British Columbia, said he believes the government has struck the right balance with Bill C-14. 

“We respect the Senate’s perspective… but we do not want to affect the fundamental balance that we achieved in this piece of legislation between protecting vulnerable Canadians and allowing for rights and freedoms.”

The Justice and Health Ministers told journalists June 16 the government will accept some Senate amendments but not the one put forward by Senator Serge Joyal. Joyal and a majority of Senators were persuaded by the testimony of some constitutional experts the unamended bill was unconstitutional because its criteria were not as broad as those in the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter decision. 

Among the amendments the government accepted was one requiring a palliative care assessment. It amended the language slightly to read “assistance in dying after having been informed of the means available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.”

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she and Health Minister Jane Philpott agreed with the Prime Minister “that the original language in Bill C-14 strikes the necessary and appropriate balance in terms of medical assistance in dying, in balancing personal autonomy and eligibility for medical assistance in dying with the necessary and fundamental protections that need to be in place to protect vulnerable people.”

The government’s announced position was good news to representatives of a range of groups advocating for persons living with disabilities, who were holding a national forum at an Ottawa hotel June 16 to stress the importance of death being reasonably foreseeable as an important safeguard for vulnerable Canadians living with disabilities and mental illness.

“Yes, we must respect the autonomous choices of people who are dying,” said disabilities rights expert Catherine Frazee, who spoke to the conference via Skype. “For persons for whom natural death is not near, please let’s not make (suicide) easier.”

She warned “opening the doors wide” is a “form of inducement” and for some who struggle with lack of support and services, it will become “an invitation to seek an unencumbered death.”

“In a culture where frailty and dependence is so greatly feared people will die to avoid them, and die with the assistance of the state,” she said. “Frailty and dependence will become difficult to bear.”

She said those like herself who are frail and dependent can flourish, but “our ability to flourish would be extinguished.”

Present at the meeting, organized by the Canadian Association for Community Living, was Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough, who has worked with other cabinet ministers to ensure protection for disabled Canadians.

“We believe it is crucial to have ‘reasonable foreseeability’ in the bill,” she said.

“Death is not better than living with a disability.” 

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