MPs and senators to expedite legislation on right to die
Supreme Court's Feb. 6 deadline looms as government considers seeking extension to existing law
One of the first orders of government business will be to strike a special parliamentary committee to craft "quick and expedited" legislation on doctor-assisted death.
Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc, in an interview with CBC Radio's The House, said an "immediate objective" is to create a joint committee with members from the House of Commons and the Senate to prepare legislative recommendations for the government.
- Quebec right-to-die law faces challenge
- Doctors' group tries to halt doctor-assisted death
- Religious leaders call for more palliative care
"My priority is to ensure that parliamentarians have an opportunity to do some quick and expedited work around possible legislation to fill the void that would be in place with the Supreme Court," LeBlanc told host Chris Hall in the interview that will air in its entirety Saturday.
His colleague, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, will speak to details around the time frame and response to the Feb. 6, 2016, deadline for new legislation imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada. His task is to ensure Parliament is engaged in the process in light of that deadline.
In a unanimous landmark ruling on Feb. 6, 2015, the high court struck down the ban on physician-assisted dying on the grounds that it violated Canadians' charter rights. Justices gave the federal and provincial governments 12 months to prepare for the decision to come into effect.
The new Liberal government has not confirmed if it will seek an extension to that deadline, which the high court could choose to grant or reject.
Today in an interview with CBC Radio's The Current, Wilson-Raybould called the issue a "top priority" given the looming deadline and said the request for an extension is a "consideration." She said collaboration with provinces, territories, stakeholders and public is essential in dealing with the highly complex social policy.
Protect the vulnerable
"I'm committed to ensuring that we approach this issue in a comprehensive way that respects the personal beliefs and autonomy of families and individuals and also looks to ensure that we protect those who could be vulnerable," she said.
Meantime, the province of Quebec is moving ahead with its own legislation that is now scheduled to come in to force Dec. 10. It faces one outstanding request for an injunction from a doctors' group, and it's not clear if the federal government will make a formal bid to stop the legislation from coming into effect.
Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Lavallée said she received a "courtesy call" from her federal counterpart on the issue, but declined to divulge details.
"Right now for the moment, our intention is to go ahead with the bill that was really worked here. All the efforts that were made were substantial," she said.
The right-to-die debate has been emotional and politically charged in Canada. Last month, religious leaders from multiple faiths held a joint news conference on Parliament Hill calling for improved palliative care and promoting "the rights to life and security for all people."
Health Minister Jane Philpott, a family physician, said the debate underscores the need for "outstanding" palliative care. Patients do not often request assistance with dying, she said.
Quebec's law limits physician assistance to patients who are terminally ill, but Philpott said it's premature to specify what parameters might be spelled out in future federal legislation.
"One of the things we need to do well is make sure that we consult widely in this process," she said in an interview with CBC News.
Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, said an extension is not necessary because existing provincial health legislation and regulatory bodies can guide assisted death in the interim.
Making Canadians who are grievously ill and suffering in pain wait six months is an "unconscionable choice," she said. If there is an extension on the current law, it's possible that Canadians could move to Quebec or travel overseas to die.
"Then it's just a question of which is the least hardship. Do you move so that you're at least in your own country and you can have your family nearby, or do you perhaps leave earlier while you can still travel and die in a foreign country," she said.