Parliament can't 'cut and paste' assisted-death court decision: Wilson-Raybould

Canada's justice minister says responding to a landmark Supreme Court decision is never as simple as "copy-and-pasting" the words from a judgment -- especially on an issue as complex as doctor-assisted death.

MPs begin emotional debate on assisted dying legislation

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and other MPs have begun debating the government's assisted-dying legislation in the House of Commons. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's justice minister says responding to a landmark Supreme Court decision is never as simple as "copy-and-pasting" the words from a judgment -- especially on an issue as complex as doctor-assisted death.

Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke in the House of Commons on Friday as MPs began what is sure to be a long and emotional debate over the government's assisted-death bill. CBCnews.ca is carrying the debate live.

"There will always be a diversity of opinion about what is required to respond to a particular judgment, but it falls to Parliament not only to respect the court's decision but also listen to the diverse voices and decide what the public interest demands," Wilson-Raybould said.

 "It is never as simple as ... copy and pasting the words from a court judgment into new law ... Parliament faces a difficult task in addressing this issue. It must weigh and balance the perspectives of those who might be at risk in a permissive regime against those who seek assistance in dying."

The legislation as it stands respects personal autonomy, protects the vulnerable and affirms the inherent value in every human life, she added. "The bill would create a consistent national floor in terms of eligibility and procedural safeguards under the federal criminal law power which is there to ensure the safety of all Canadians.

The legislation, which has been panned by critics on both sides of the assisted-suicide debate, is consistent with both the Supreme Court's decision as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she added.

'What was the point?'

The debate comes just one day after an emotional news conference in Ottawa in which the children of Kay Carter, whose suffering was at the heart of the top court's decision, said that under the proposed legislation, their mother would not have qualified for medical help to end her life.

"We fought for a half a decade and won our case at the highest court in the land and this bill would erase the victory that we achieved for people like my mom," Lee Carter said Thursday. "We ask ourselves, 'What was the point?"'

Wilson-Raybould denied that claim, insisting the legislation — known as Bill C-14 — would in fact ensure that individuals like those who were before the courts in Carter could obtain access to medical assistance in dying.

Conservative MP Scott Reid also raised concerns about the bill during Friday's debate, noting he has hesitations about the terminology that permits access to competent adults "whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable."

"I ask this question to the minister, would she object to an amendment to this legislation in the committee process that would give a definition to the term 'reasonably foreseeable' so this is not left up to other individuals who may apply different standards?" Reid asked.

Wilson-Raybould said there would be opportunities to closely examine the bill, adding the language used in the legislation "purposefully provided" flexibility to medical practitioners to use their own expertise. 

In February 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the ban on physician-assisted dying, but the judgment has been suspended until June 6 to give Parliament a chance to craft a new law.

There have been calls for the Liberal government to send its legislative response back to the top court to see if it meets the criteria laid out in its decision, but Wilson-Raybould said it is "premature" to consider any reference to the court in advance of a law being in place.