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Feds granted more time for changes to assisted suicide law

  • July 3, 2020

A Quebec court has agreed to allow the federal government to put off making changes to Canada’s medically-assisted suicide law until mid-December.

The extension granted by Justice Quebec Superior Court Justice Frederic Bachand on June 29 now means that the federal government has until Dec. 18 to bring the country’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) rules in compliance with a 2019 ruling by Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin that had stripped the federal law of one of its key restrictions. 

Baudouin had ruled that the requirement that a Canadian’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for a medically-assisted suicide was an unconstitutional restriction and she gave the government six months to bring federal law in compliance with her ruling.

Although critics of expanding who can qualifies for euthanasia in Canada have slammed the decision of the federal government not to have appealed that original Quebec court decision, the federal government claims that a two-week online survey of the government’s proposed changes to the existing assisted suicide legislation shows the public supports the MAiD system and the changes proposed.

The federal government’s proposed changes as put forward in Bill C-7 would set up a two-tier system for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable and those whose death is not. It would also allow a waiver of final consent for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable but “who may lose capacity to consent before MAiD can be provided.” And it specifically states that it excludes “eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness.”

The government’s proposed Bill C-7 went through first reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 24. However, the federal government asked for and was granted a four-month extension of the timeline to comply with the Quebec court ruling soon after that.

Baudouin agreed to an extension request on March 2, giving the federal government until July 11 to make changes to the national MAiD system. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the House of Commons for five weeks starting in March and Parliament has been functioning on a limited basis since then.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges, including the disruption of the current Parliamentary session,” a federal statement said when the government asked for a second extension. “A five-month extension of the ruling’s suspension period is needed to provide sufficient time for Parliament to properly consider and enact this proposed legislation, which is of importance to many Canadians and families across the country.”

Opponents of euthanasia such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops dismiss the government’s online survey as being biased and argue that issues of life and death should not be determined by public opinion polls.

“It is very troubling that the introduction of Bill C-7 was justified on the basis of a highly questionable, biased and rushed online survey, which took place over just two weeks,” a statement from the CCCB released back on Feb. 26 said, adding that “the questions in this survey were framed in a manner which presupposed agreement with euthanasia and assisted suicide, including its broadening, without giving Canadians who are opposed an equal voice.”

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada with Catholic faithful as well as innumerable other Canadians – religious or otherwise – remain opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide in any form because of their interest in protecting and promoting human life, because it is always wrong to take the life of an innocent person, and because medical science and compassionate care have provided effective ways of easing pain and suffering without having to resort to direct killing,” the CCCB statement said.

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