British Columbia

Senator Larry Campbell says he will take the time to get assisted dying law right

B.C. senator Larry Campbell says Bill C-14 is the most important legislation he's seen in his 11-year Senate career, and he intends to take the time to get it right — even if it means missing the June 6 deadline.

'I don't think the world will end on June 6 if this bill is not passed,' says Campbell

Senator Larry Campbell, who has served as B.C.'s chief coroner and mayor of Vancouver, says assisted dying legislation is extremely important to get right. (CBC)

B.C. senator Larry Campbell says Bill C-14 is the most important legislation he's seen in his 11-year Senate career, and he intends to take the time to get it right — even if it means missing the June 6 deadline.

The former coroner and mayor of Vancouver says the bill is unconstitutional in its current form because of its definition of "grievous and irremediable illness," and because it does not allow for advance planning in the case of a diagnosis like Alzheimer's that gradually renders a patient not competent in the late stages of the disease.

Campbell said the bill's importance makes it all the more vital to spend time on, or it will eventually end up being struck down by the Supreme Court.

"The idea that we have a gun to our heads and this has to be done in a certain timeframe — I believe the majority of senators reject this," Campbell told Early Edition host Rick Cluff. "I don't think the world will end on June 6 if this bill is not passed."

"It's our responsibility as senators to ensure that the bill is constitutional. That's what our job is."

Current definition too narrow

Campbell's first concern with the bill is that its definition of grievous and irremediable illness does not include neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. Those patients, he said, are "suffering horribly," but their deaths are not necessarily imminent.

"If [the current definition] is left in the bill, then legally assisted dying will effectively be off the table for all but the terminally ill," he said.

His second concern is that the bill does not allow for advanced planning for legally assisted death in the case of a disease like Alzheimer's. Campbell says he has had his own end-of-life plan in place since his time in the B.C. coroner's office, where the suffering he saw affected him deeply. He wants Canadians in such situations to be able to legally plan for their deaths if — when the time comes — they are no longer able to do so.

The Senate begins discussing Bill C-14 today. A Supreme Court ruling initially called for the government to pass assisted dying legislation by February of 2016. When the Liberals took power in October of 2015, they successfully petitioned the court for an extension until June 6, 2016.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition.

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