The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Senate legal committee has serious reservations about assisted dying bill

May 17, 2016

Ottawa — The government’s bill on medical assistance in dying needs stronger safeguards before the Senate can even think about passing it, members of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs said Tuesday.

The committee concluded its pre-study of Bill C-14 and issued a report containing a number of recommendations to strengthen the government bill, which was tabled in the House of Commons after a special joint committee of Senators and MPs studied the issue earlier this year.

“The report is an indication that Senators have some serious reservations about parts of this bill,” said Senator Bob Runciman, Chair of the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

“The House of Commons would be wise to consider this before Bill C-14 is sent to the Senate. Many Senators feel very strongly about this issue, and I think that is reflected in the report.”

The committee recommended allowing people to give advanced consent to death at any time after being diagnosed with a condition likely to cause loss of competence. Members also agreed anyone benefitting from a person’s death should not generally have the ability to sign for the person requesting assistance in dying.

Additionally, members wanted to make it crystal clear that medical practitioners are free to decline to provide medical assistance in dying.

“We held marathon hearings and heard from 66 witnesses from all walks of life,” said Senator Mobina Jaffer, Deputy Chair of the committee. “I hope MPs will seriously consider our recommendations — our committee agrees the government bill as it stands now simply does not go far enough.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last year that, in certain circumstances, Criminal Code provisions that prohibit medical assistance in dying violate the Charter rights of individuals. The court gave Parliament until June 6 to enact new laws.

“This is as serious an issue as we’ll ever have to deal with as legislators and we intend to do our job,” Senator Runciman said.

“It’s unfortunate the Supreme Court thinks so little of the role of Parliament that it did not grant a long enough extension to allow the kind of debate and study, in both the House of Commons and the Senate, that this topic deserves.”

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Mélisa Leclerc
Director of Communications
Senate of Canada