Senate votes to pass unconstitutional Bill C-14 through Parliament

Canadians suffering intolerably from excruciating, irremediable medical conditions, but who are not approaching end of life, have been barred once again from rightful access to assisted dying.

Senators passed Bill C-14 with a 44-28 vote — just one day after the House of Commons rejected the Senate’s amendment to remove the “reasonably foreseeable” clause from the bill to broaden eligibility requirements.

Under the Liberal government’s bill, only those Canadians whose “natural death is reasonably foreseeable” and who are in an “advanced state of irreversible decline” will be eligible for physician-assisted deaths, leaving patients with conditions like ALS, Huntington’s disease, and dementia without rightful access.

“Today, we mourn for those Canadians who were promised compassionate choice by the Supreme Court’s decision, only to have that choice taken away,” said Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada. “When this government came into power, its leader vowed to respect Canadians’ hard-won Charter rights. Bill C-14 represents a breach of that promise.”

Since it was tabled in mid-April, Bill C-14 has inspired impassioned and intense debate across the country because of its restrictive eligibility criteria, which is much narrower in scope than the guidelines put forth by the Supreme Court in its landmark Carter v. Canada 2015 ruling.

In recent weeks, many senators raised concerns about the bill’s constitutionality after hearing from several leading experts, including Peter Hogg, that the bill may violate Canadians’ Charter rights. Many agreed that allowing one class of suffering Canadians to seek assisted dying but denying another was discriminatory.

“We will be abandoning many Canadians if we agree to let C-14 pass with the provision limiting medical aid in dying to those who are near death,” said Senate Liberal leader James Cowan. “How can we turn away and ignore the pleas of suffering Canadians?”

Concerns over the bill’s constitutionality led the Senate to adopt an amendment to eliminate the offending provisions and use the Supreme Court’s language in Carter instead. But the House remained firm in its position that the bill is the most “balanced” approach to physician-assisted dying and quickly rejected the amendment.  In response, many senators cast their serious reservations aside in deference to the elected House of Commons and accepted the federal government’s more restrictive approach.

While Bill C-14 now awaits royal assent, supporters of the right-to-die movement will begin to apply pressure on the government to act as quickly as possible to launch independent studies on three key issues relating to the implementation of physician-assisted dying. Those include the legalization of advance requests for assisted dying, access for mature minors, and the eligibility of individuals whose sole qualifying condition is psychiatric.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to push for rules that respect the letter and the intention of the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada,” Gokool said. “We, along with our supporters, will not allow lawmakers to shy away from their responsibility to promote assisted dying laws that respect the Charter and offer Canadians meaningful choice in the face of unendurable suffering.”

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