WINNIPEG – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is keeping up the pressure on parliamentarians to pass his government’s controversial legislation on assisted dying by June 6.
But two of his predecessors at the Liberal helm — former prime minister Paul Martin and former interim leader Bob Rae — say there’ll be no cataclysmic result if the deadline is not met.
June 6 is the date on which the ban on medical assistance in dying will be formally lifted in Canada.
That’s in accordance with last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, which struck down the ban but suspended the ruling until June 6 to give Parliament time to craft a new law.
Trudeau’s government has been scrambling to get its proposed legislation enacted in time to meet that deadline but is quickly running out of time.
Bill C-14 is scheduled for a final vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday, after which it will be sent to the Senate, where the government has no control over the more independent senators and no levers to speed passage of the bill.
Few senators have shown any inclination to rush the bill through all stages of the legislative process in the two sitting days that will be left to the upper house before the deadline.
Trudeau acknowledged Saturday that he wants the Senate to conduct itself in a more independent and less partisan manner. But he said that doesn’t preclude senators from acting with haste on the bill to avoid a legal void after June 6.
“I have confidence that the more independent and thoughtful Senate is going to do right by the responsibilities that Canadians expect it to,” he told a news conference wrapping up a three-day Liberal policy convention.
If there is no law in place by June 6, Trudeau said many medical practitioners have told him they won’t help patients who should be eligible for an assisted death because they’ll be “concerned that there isn’t any legal framework or protection for them.”
At the same time, he said some doctors might be “too enthusiastic” and will help patients who shouldn’t be eligible for an assisted death.
Trudeau did not mention that medical regulators in every province have already issued guidelines instructing physicians how to go about providing assistance in dying. Those guidelines impose safeguards similar to — and in some cases, even stronger than — those proposed in C-14.
Nor did he mention that the eligibility criteria spelled out by the Supreme Court in last year’s ruling will apply.
For Rae, those two factors are sufficient to ward against chaos should the deadline be missed.
“My view is, the provinces are more than ready and (have) the constitutional responsibility to regulate the medical profession and have done and will continue to do so,” Rae said in an interview.
“Obviously, if Parliament can come to a conclusion before (June 6), that’s fine but if they can’t there’s more than adequate legal structure in the country to deal with that reality.”
Martin similarly saw no rush. Indeed, he argued that it’s more important to take the time to get the legislation right.
“It is a very difficult subject on both sides for many of us and I think that the more we can debate it, the better it is,” Martin said during a break at the convention on Thursday.
He said it’s “important that we get it right and that we don’t be bound by arbitrary timelines.”
Bill C-14 would make assisted death available only for clearly consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
That’s considerably more restrictive than the criteria set out by the Supreme Court. It ruled that consenting adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions who are enduring intolerable suffering have the right to seek medical help to end their lives.
Legal experts and civil liberties advocates maintain C-14 does not comply with the court ruling or with the charter of rights. But Trudeau said he’s confident the government has struck “the right balance” between protecting the vulnerable and defending charter rights.