OTTAWA (CCN) — The Liberal government’s euthanasia and assisted suicide Bill C-14 received Royal Assent and became law June 17.
Earlier in the day, after heated debate, Senators voted 44 to 28 to accept amendments to the bill approved by the House of Commons the previous day by a 190 to 108 vote (see related story, page 4).
Both in the House of Commons and the Senate, opposition to the bill included some staunchly pro-life opponents as well as those opposed because they believe eligibility for euthanasia or assisted suicide is not broad enough and therefore unconstitutional.
As well, many staunch opponents of euthanasia voted for the bill, on grounds having a bill provides better safeguards for the vulnerable than having no bill at all.
Senator Serge Joyal had put forward a Senate amendment to remove the requirement that a patient’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” from the eligibility requirements of Bill C-14. He argued the bill was not in line with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter decision because it eliminated classes of suffering people from access to “medical aid in dying” simply because they were not near death.
When the House of Commons rejected that amendment, though accepting others, and modifying a safeguard calling for a palliative care assessment, Joyal tried and failed to get the Senate to send the bill back to the House with an amendment requiring the government to suspend the “reasonably foreseeable” section of the bill until it could seek a decision on its constitutionality from the Supreme Court of Canada.
“I don’t like the word ‘ping pong,’ ” said Senator Joyal “It trivializes our role.” He argued the role of the Senate is to defend minorities and ensure bills are constitutional. He brought up many instances the House of Commons had used its majority to trample minority rights, from the internment of Ukrainians during and after the First World War, the internment of the Japanese in the Second World War, and immigration policies to exclude Jews.
Those who supported his amendment argued the bill’s constitutionality would be challenged and it is unfair to put the financial burden on the families or groups who would have to mount those challenges.
But other senators objected to handing over Parliament’s role to the unelected judges of the Supreme Court.
Senator Dennis Patterson said the Joyal amendment would pay too much homage to the unelected judges on the Supreme Court. “I believe in our system Parliament is supreme, not the Supreme Court.”
Senator Mike Duffy said many residents of Prince Edward Island had asked that “we respect the sanctity of life and stop medical aid in dying.”
“We can’t,” he said, noting the Supreme Court of Canada had mandated it. Duffy noted during the debates on the Canadian constitution that many MPs opposed the Charter because it would “take power out of the hands of elected representatives and put it into the hands of unelected judges.”
Prime minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, then “agreed to accept the notwithstanding clause,” in what Duffy called a “Canadian compromise.”
Duffy said the Parliament must obey court rulings, but courts “should show proper deference to Parliament.”
“C-14 reflects a balanced approach,” Duffy said. “It’s not everything opponents want, nor a carbon copy of Carter decision. It’s a Canadian compromise.”
Senator David Tkachuk, who said he is opposed on principle to euthanasia and assisted suicide, said the Supreme Court justices “have taken away my right to choose.”
He warned of “mission creep,” based on the experience in the Netherlands where more and more categories of people have sought and received euthanasia. At the same time, he argued for the motion to pass.
“If we are to defeat this bill, it means the Supreme Court of Canada will guide actions of medical and legal community,” he said. “The House of Commons have sent us a message and we should heed it.”
“I believe the government’s cautious approach is the right one,” said Senator Robert Runciman.
“It would be safe to describe myself as no fan of the judicial activism of today’s court,” Runciman said, noting it “all too frequently goes well beyond interpreting the law or ruling about the constitution.”
Senator Denise Batters expressed disappointment the Liberal government ignored Senate amendments that would have strengthened safeguards, such as those to protect the mentally ill.
The House of Commons did partially accept Senator Nicole Eaton’s amendment concerning a palliative care assessment. The bill will require patients to be informed of treatment options, including palliative care.