May 30, 2016

A Senate committee has recommended amendments to strengthen euthanasia Bill C-14's safeguards and add conscience rights protections to aid quicker passage of the bill.

Senator Denise Batters recommended the House of Commons pass these recommendations before returning the bill to the Senate after a third reading vote.

The Liberal government tried to force a vote on third reading May 18 by shutting down debate, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau derailed that plan by wading into a group of New Democrat MPs who were blocking the Conservative whip from returning to his seat so the vote could begin.

The confrontation between Trudeau and opposition MPs and ensuing debate over the prime minister's behaviour pushed the euthanasia bill off the agenda.

Instead of returning the bill to the Senate before a week-long May break, it is not likely to be debated again until the week of May 30.

"This is the perfect time," said Batters, a member of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee that presented the House of Commons with 10 amendments May 17.

After 20 hours of meetings, and hearing from 66 witnesses, the committee recommended adding "terminal illness" and "end of life" to the criteria for obtaining an assisted death.

It also extended the waiting period of 15 days to 90 days for those with underlying mental health conditions. Finally, the committee called for an amendment to ensure those likely to benefit financially from a person's death cannot counsel suicide or sign for a patient.

The Senate also proposed adding a provision to ensure the conscientious and religious freedom rights of health care practitioners and institutions to be free to refuse "aid in the provision of medical assistance in dying."


Batters said Canadians have shown consistently in polling and in the witnesses the Senate committee heard that they expect terminal illness and end-of-life be required conditions to access assisted suicide.

The present wording of a "reasonably foreseeable death," could apply to anyone, Batters said.

"We wanted to tighten things up," she said, noting the adding of terminal illness is a significant safeguard that brings the bill in line with the Quebec euthanasia bill.

The current make-up of the legal and constitutional affairs committee is seven Conservatives and four Liberals.

A recent Alberta Court of Appeals case interpreted the Supreme Court's Carter decision more broadly so as not to restrict assisted dying to those with terminal illness.


But Batters pointed out federal justice department lawyers argued before the Alberta Court of Appeal that Carter did in fact restrict assisted suicide to the terminally ill.

While many pro-euthanasia groups have argued restricting assisted suicide to the terminally ill would not pass a legal challenge, Constitutional challenges

If the government comes back with a complex regulatory regime, the Supreme Court "will give it a high degree of deference," Chipeur said.

"It will be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada and will survive any constitutional challenge."