The government is encountering roadblocks every step of the way – including a heavy blow from critics and opposition in parliament – in their race for final euthanasia medical aid (MAiD) before Christmas.
The House is due to get up on Friday, but the proposed bill, Bill C-7, has yet to pass third reading before it can be submitted to the Senate for approval.
Opposition members have delayed the government’s timetable for the adoption of C-7 by using the debate to raise concerns about the legislation, including proposing changes to extend and maintain the waiting time for patients who have access to MAiD, which were previously rejected in the house.
“I hope the government sees the light – some sensible changes, and I think a lot of Canadians will be protected,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The government is working on a December 18 deadline for C-7 to pass after a September 2019 ruling by the Quebec Supreme Court found that the legal requirement for assisted death – that the person seeking it be a “Reasonably foreseeable” natural death must be unconstitutional and exposed a violation of the charter rights of those who did not have access to an assisted death.
The proposed changes would remove the “reasonably foreseeable” death requirement and disqualify those whose only underlying condition is mental illness.
The Conservatives want to extend the 90-day waiting period to 120 days for those without one “Reasonably foreseeable” death, and respect the 10 day waiting period for those who have a “reasonably foreseeable” death. Both amendments were rejected by the House.
Ewan Goligher, The assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Interdepartmental Intensive Care Unit said he would like C-7 to be changed to allow doctors Those who believe the lifelong process is unethical can follow their conscience and not refer patients to another doctor who is willing to administer MAiD.
An effective referral “makes me morally guilty of euthanasia administration,” he told iPolitics on Tuesday.
Doctors who object on moral grounds are not required to perform the procedure, but rather aFollowing the enactment of the euthanasia legislation in 2016, the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario (CPSO), which licenses doctors and regulates the practice of medicine, passed a MAID guideline stating that doctors who refused to grant assisted deaths were obliged to put patients in touch with doctors who would.
Following a challenge to that policy, the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld last year a lower court’s conclusion that doctors must offer their patients an “effective referral” to another doctor who would provide end-of-life assistance.
Goligher said the original MAiD legislation, C-14, stated that doctors would not be required to participate in euthanasia provision, adding that C-7 is intended to clarify that an “effective referral” of euthanasia is a form participation is.
For example, he stated that if euthanasia was still illegal, a doctor would be criminally responsible for referring a patient to a doctor who had completed the procedure.
Nova Scotia is like Ontario Referrals viewed as “reasonable accommodation” for doctors and although it is not a criminal matter, doctors in these jurisdictions they could lose their license because they follow their conscience and do not make recommendations, Goligher said.
“If euthanasia is unethical, we definitely shouldn’t be referring to it,” he told iPolitics.
Goligher made the same case before the Senate Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs during his study of government changes to MAiD on Nov. 26, and his comments echo other witnesses’ testimony to other witnesses on the House Judiciary Committee during his investigation of C-7 had given up.
READ MORE: Experts Warn Not To Extend Medical Assistance When Dying
Catherine Ferrier, president of Doctors’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, said it should be clarified in the law that MAiD is not a medical treatment on the same level as real treatments. “
“It’s not a standard of care,” she told MPs on November 12th. “It should be a last resort when all other reasonable options have failed.”
READ MORE: Conservatives in no rush with MAiD amendments, says O’Toole
Disability advocates have also asked parliament to stop the bill and take more time to review the impact it will have on Canada’s disabled population.
Krista Carr, executive vice president of Inclusion Canada, called Bill C-7 a “Worst Nightmare” and said it devalued the lives of the disabled. With that legislation passed, disability could become a justification for state-facilitated suicide, she said in her testimony last month.
In a scramble before Question Time on Tuesday, Justice Minister David Lametti said “a lot of people will suffer needlessly” if the law is not passed by December 18.
If C-7 does not get royal approval within ten days, the minister said it would create a “legal loophole” in Quebec that will have different rules than the rest of Canada. This will create a “chilling effect” for practitioners who are unsure whether to use MAiD without clear guidelines on what to do with the criminal code.
Lametti also said the legal vacuum would likely create more legal challenges in the future as the law would not be the same across Canada.
Senator Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, said he was focused on finding a way for the Senate to pass C-7 before the court’s deadline.
“It is regrettable that partisan politics could leave the Senate – an institution with a wealth of expertise on these issues and a clear constitutional role – with little time to process this legislation at all stages before the court’s deadline,” said he in an emailed statement.