Lawyers debate whether no law is better than current proposal

May 30, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA - Constitutional lawyers opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide are divided on whether passing Bill C-14 without further amendments is preferable to no bill at all.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition's legal counsel Hugh Scher said it is important to have a bill that addresses the Supreme Court of Canada's Carter decision with "comprehensive safeguards to protect vulnerable people from the risk of abuse.

"The existing bill does not do that," he said. The bill provides "little or no safeguards and no effective oversight;" and it does not provide for a prior review by a judge or a tribunal.

Scher said he would like to see the bill improved to provide an adequate level of safeguards and oversight. "Failing that, we may be better off with no bill and simply have litigation over specific issues," he said.

Catholic Civil Rights League president and constitutional lawyer Phil Horgan has said the league's position is that Bill C-14 is a worse proposal than the law that would exist after June 6 if C-14 was not passed.

Under the Carter decision, only physicians would be allowed to perform assisted suicides, not nurse practitioners as the bill allows, and it would leave the Criminal Code's section on administration of a noxious substance in place, Horgan said.

The bill would allow anyone to help a patient take a prescribed lethal drug.

Alberta-based constitutional lawyer Gerry Chipeur, who also opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, disagrees and warns that without the bill, Canada will be left with a legal vacuum similar to that on abortion.

"Nothing could be more critical than getting this bill passed," he said. "This bill is a tremendous bill, much more restrictive than Carter."

Chipeur noted a recent Alberta Court of Appeal interpretation of the Carter decision means without a federal law, Carter "gives carte blanche to physicians to kill everyone."

Even with the present wording, Bill C-14 limits access to assisted suicide to those at end of life, he said. "That is the most significant limitation one can imagine."

MORE AMENDMENTS NEEDED

Chipeur hoped the Senate will pass some amendments to make the bill even stronger.

"Without Bill C-14, the provinces and territories will have no basis on which to pass ethical or civil rights statutes to govern how physicians and nurses interact with their patients at the end of life," he said.