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Assisted dying bill : A Senate timeline
Assisted dying bill : A Senate timeline
June 15, 2016

Step 3 : Assisted dying bill at third reading

June 15, 2016

After days of intense introspection and eloquent pleadings over one of the most challenging moral problems to confront contemporary society, senators voted to pass the government’s bill on medical assistance in dying — but only after making seven amendments.

Bill C-14, as amended by the Senate, passed third reading by a vote of 64 to 12 with 1 senator abstaining. The senators’ amendments are detailed here.

The bill will now return to the House of Commons, where MPs will have to decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or propose their own, in which case senators will once more debate the merits of Bill C-14.

Step 2: Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Assisted dying bill moves to third reading

June 7, 2016

Members of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs sent the government’s physician-assisted dying bill back to the Senate Chamber for third reading Tuesday, where senators will begin to put forward amendments.

Senators did not propose any changes to Bill C-14 at the committee stage, preferring instead to wait until the bill is back before the entire Senate so all members will have the opportunity to make modifications.

This also speeds up the legislative process by eliminating the need for a separate debate on the committee report. Committee members had also pre-studied the bill while it was still before the House of Commons; they made a number of recommendations on May 17.

Expert opinion is divided over the constitutionality of the bill and senators have expressed dissatisfaction with many different aspects of it for deeply personal, moral and philosophical reasons.

Since the bill came before the Senate last week, senators have heard testimony from the federal health and justice ministers and a number of expert witnesses.

Top constitutional expert, lawyer Peter Hogg, had warned senators on Monday that in its current form the bill is doomed.

“It’s a point that I know you have heard before, but the House of Commons heard it before and it made no difference to the House of Commons,” he said. “In my opinion, C-14 is not consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in the [Supreme Court’s Carter case].”

Senator Jim Cowan suggested replacing some of the language of C-14 with the wording used by the Supreme Court; Hogg agreed this might work.

The committee heard Kay Carter herself - who died in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic before her relatives won the Carter case last year - would not have been eligible for assisted dying under C-14.

On the other side, Professor Tom McMorrow and lawyer Gerald Chipeur told the committee they believe the legislation is constitutional.

“I don't believe your power comes from the court,” Chipeur said. “It comes from the Queen, it comes from the people, and you are free to make whatever decision you think is best to protect vulnerable people from abuse and error.”

Under questioning from Senator Don Plett, who wants protection for medical professionals with ethical objections to assisted dying, Chipeur revealed more flaws in the government bill.

Senator Plett had asked Chipeur about strengthening wording in a section that says “nothing […] compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.”

Chipeur said that paragraph was a “declaration in the air and meaningless” and that it must be linked to other sections of the bill for it to truly address Senator Plett’s concerns.

The deputy chair of the committee, Senator Mobina Jaffer said afterwards that the debate over the bill has brought out the best in senators.

“This bill is literally a matter of life and death. Canadians are relying on us to get it right — and we are determined to do so,” Senator Jaffer said.

“It is a humbling responsibility, but I cannot help but be proud to see my Senate colleagues bring such humanity and passion to this debate.”

The committee’s proceedings are broadcast live and archived online; Canadians can also listen live to proceedings on the Senate floor.

Step 1 : Committee of the Whole

Senators give assisted dying bill proper debate

June 2, 2016

Senators sat until 10:30 p.m. on Thursday debating the moral, ethical and constitutional questions surrounding the proposed physician-assisted dying legislation.

Senator Murray Sinclair, a former judge, said he felt a great deal of pride “in this place and in all of you.”

“In this place, I heard hard questions being asked and answered. […] I observed your intelligence and heard and felt your passion about this bill, and I certainly felt your humanity.”

Speeches carried into Friday to accommodate the many senators who wanted to speak on Bill C-14, especially after they devoted four hours earlier in the week to questioning Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott.

After time allocation motions cut short arguments on the bill in the House of Commons, senators restored principle and reason to the debate.

This seemed to catch members of the media off guard.

“Canada actually needs more Senate now,” said CTV’s Don Martin, with a degree of surprise. “It is suddenly delivering a valuable second-look service on the physician-assisted dying legislation. And that looks like the beginning of a trend.”

Senator Claude Carignan had asked Minister Wilson-Raybould to consider the consequences of restricting access to assisted dying to those “whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable.”

“You are in a way forcing those who are not at the end of life to stop eating, for example, or to harm themselves in order to become eligible for medical assistance in dying,” Senator Carignan said. “Do you realize that people might harm themselves or stop eating to become eligible?”

Senator James Cowan followed up with what only could be described as a cross-examination, suggesting the bill did not go as far as the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter required.

Senator Denise Batters, however, worried that the bill did not do enough to protect people with mental illnesses.

“There should be additional safeguards in this legislation where a patient with intolerable physical suffering is also found to be suffering with a mental health condition,” she said.

One of the newest senators told the chamber of her own experience with agonizing pain — and the weight of responsibility she feels in the Senate.

“I did not plan — in fact I did not want to talk today,” Paralympic athlete and Senator Chantal Petitclerc said. “I feel nowhere close to being ready to speak in this impressive chamber.”

“But this morning, for one of the very first times in my life, it’s not about performing — it’s about bringing my personal perspectives to a discussion that I believe is crucial and will define the country that we love so much.”

For the first time, she spoke of the accident that left her a paraplegic at age 12 — and 19 days of agonizing pain as doctors tried to fix her fractured bones.

“By not allowing the right to access medical assistance in dying for someone who is in unbearable pain but not dying denies a whole group of individuals the right to choose how they want to live and how they want to end their lives,” she said.

“I genuinely want to be able to support it but the truth is, it is not quite the bill that I was personally waiting for, and it is my hope that we can contribute to making it the best it can be.”

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs will study the bill before it returns to the Red Chamber for a third reading.