Justin Trudeau defends doctor-assisted death legislation as a 'responsible first step'

Members of Parliament will have to wait two more days to start debating the Liberals' controversial legislation on doctor-assisted death, an issue the prime minister said Wednesday was both "important" and "personal."

Bill C-14 'important' and 'personal,' PM says as debate is pushed back to Friday

MPs were scheduled to start debating the Liberals' legislation on medical assistance in dying today, but the debate has now been moved to Friday at 10 a.m. ET. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government's controversial legislation on doctor-assisted dying as a "responsible first step" Wednesday, as a Commons debate on the bill was pushed back by two days.

MPs were scheduled to start debating bill C-14, the Liberals' legislation on medical assistance in dying today, but the debate has been moved to Friday at 10 a.m. ET.

Trudeau suggested the debate was a matter close to his heart saying it was "important and "personal."

The Liberal legislation proposes to restrict medical assistance in dying to mentally competent adults who have serious and incurable illness, disease or disability.

Bill C-14 also sets out safeguards to protect vulnerable Canadians, but does not include some of the most contentious recommendations from a parliamentary committee, including extending the right to die to "mature minors" and the mentally ill, and allowing advance consent for patients with degenerative disorders.

"Following discussion with opposition House leaders, Bill C-14 will be debated on Friday," said Sabrina Atwal, a spokeswoman for government House leader Dominic Leblanc.

"There was the option to debate it on Thursday, but we did not want to move the NDP opposition day," Atwal said in an email to CBC News Wednesday.

The government initially said its MPs would have to toe the party line to ensure the bill's passage, but later reversed its position to allow Liberal MPs to vote according to their conscience.

Some Liberal backbenchers have already said they will be calling for changes following feedback from their constituents.

'Responsible first step'

"I'm confident that the reflections on this issue, which are important and in my case personal, will bring us to a place where people recognize that the question isn't whether we ought to legalize medical assistance in dying, but how," Trudeau said in French on his way into a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

In his memoir, Common Ground, Trudeau wrote about his father's struggle with Parkinson's and terminal prostate cancer in the final stages of his life.

"The step we have taken, is a responsible first step," Trudeau said.

Conservative and New Democrat MPs will also be free to vote according to their conscience.

Asked if he was comfortable with the provisions of the bill, Conservative leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier said he was still consulting with his constituents on the matter.

"I have yet to make a decision," Bernier told reporters gathered on Parliament Hill Wednesday.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair emerged after caucus saying he would vote in favour of the proposed legislation, but hoped to see the government would refer it back to the Supreme Court.

"I'm going to be voting for the legislation that's been presented by the government," said Mulcair following a meeting with his caucus on Wednesday.

"I do find that there are some shortcomings between that legislation and what was proposed after the joint committee."

To date, the Liberals have not moved to limit the debate on Bill C-14.