Team of MPs, senators to study new rules for assisted dying

A new joint committee of MPs and senators will be tasked with providing Canadian Parliament with recommendations for legislation on physician assisted dying.

Government house leader Dominic LeBlanc spoke about the federal Liberals’ plans in an interview with CBC Radio that will air in its entirety on Saturday. “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,” he told The House host Chris Hall.

However, he did not say whether the federal government will be asking for the Supreme Court to delay the implementation of its Feb. 6, 2015 ruling in Carter v. Canada. In their unanimous decision, the justices on the high court struck down the country’s Criminal Code ban on physician assisted dying, but gave the federal and provincial lawmakers a period of 12 months for ruling to come into effect.

In the summer, the incumbent Conservative government under Stephen Harper struck a controversial expert panel to consult Canadians on their views on assisted dying and to identify possible options for legislation. However, in November, the Trudeau Liberals trimmed the group's mandate, asking the panelists to report only on the findings of their consultations.

Possible request for an extension

With the decision set to come into effect in just over two months, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has signalled the government is considering a request for an extension to give Parliament more time to develop new rules. Ottawa has also asked Quebec, the only province to have passed legislation allowing end-of-life choice, to delay its plan to offer legal medical aid in dying starting on Dec. 10.

Dying With Dignity Canada has made repeated calls for the federal government to rule out asking the Supreme Court to delay the implementation of its ruling. “Nine months after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, the old law continues to drive some Canadians to seek assisted dying overseas," DWD Canada CEO Wanda Morris said in late October. “It compels others to end their own lives at home, prematurely and sometimes in a violent manner.

“We ask our new government to lead with compassion to ensure that Canadian patients no longer have to take drastic measures to die on their own terms.”

Asking for an extension is also unnecessary, Morris said. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t require federal lawmakers to pass new legislation, and medical regulators across the country are already at work developing safeguards, she added.

“The desire to ask for an extension is understandable, but stalling is wrong and unnecessary,” Morris said. “There are steps we can take now to ensure that Canadian patients have fair, safe and timely access to physician assisted dying on February 6 and beyond.”

(Photo credit: Makaristos/Wikimedia)

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