OTTAWA — The federal Liberals have lost a bid to extend debate next week on their contentious medically-assisted dying legislation.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced two motions Friday to extend sitting hours next Tuesday and Wednesday into the early morning hours so MPs could speak their minds about Bill C-14.
But the procedural move was rejected by the opposition parties, who accused the Liberals of using "bulldozer" tactics to get the legislation through third reading.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould makes her way past journalists following a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill, Tuesday, April 12, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Wilson-Raybould said she would have preferred to have more time to debate the proposed new law.
But the Opposition Conservatives complained that their constituents deserve to hear their MPs debate the legislation at a time when they're actually awake.
New Democrat MP Peter Julian said the Liberals should have approached his party first to seek consent to extend the sitting hours.
The clock is ticking
The Supreme Court last year struck down the ban on medical assistance in dying and gave the government until June 6 to draft a new law that recognizes the right to an assisted death for clearly consenting adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering.
The government has taken a more restrictive approach than the top court with a bill that would allow medical assistance in dying only for consenting adults in "an advanced stage of irreversible decline."
The bill would also require those seeking a doctor's help to be suffering from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom a natural death is "reasonably foreseeable."
Wilson-Raybould continued Friday to suggest she would be open to amendments from the Senate to ensure the law is passed before the June deadline.
"I embrace the realities of a parliamentary democracy and I will consider those amendments if, in fact, they come," she said.
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A look at some jurisdictions where right-to-die laws are in place. (Information courtesy of The Canadian Press)
A right-to-die bill was adopted last year, the first legislation of its kind in Canada. The law, scheduled to go into effect in December, stipulates that patients would have to repeatedly ask a doctor to end their lives on the basis of unbearable physical or psychological suffering. They would have to be deemed mentally sound at the time of the requests. The law, however, is being challenged in court by two Quebec-based groups on the grounds that it undercuts sections of the Criminal Code that outlaw assisted suicide and euthanasia. The federal government has expressed its opposition to the legislation but is named as a defendant in the court challenge because it is responsible for the Criminal Code.
The results of a referendum made Oregon the first U.S. state to make it legal for a doctor to prescribe a life-ending drug to a terminally ill patient of sound mind who makes the request. However, doctors cannot administer the life-ending drugs and the patient must swallow them without help. Patients must state three times -- once in writing -- that they wish to die, and those statements must be made at least 15 days apart. They must also obtain a concurring opinion from a second doctor that they have less than six months to live and are of sound mind. The law took effect in late 1997, and through June, 2014, just over 800 people had used the law.
The state became the first in the U.S. to allow a person's right to die through legislation rather than through a court decision or a referendum result. Vermont's law, which took effect in May 2013, is closely modelled on the system in Oregon and uses the same safeguards. Patients must state three times, including once in writing -- that they wish to die. They must also obtain a concurring opinion from a second doctor that they have less than six months to live and are of sound mind.
In January 2014, a judge ruled that competent, terminally ill patients have the right to seek their doctors' help in getting prescription medication if they want to end their lives on their own terms. The state's attorney general is appealing the ruling, and a decision on whether it will be upheld is expected later this year.
A referendum saw the state enact right to die legislation in 2008. As in Oregon, patients with less than six months to live must administer the doctor-prescribed lethal medication on their own. According to a government report, 549 people applied for the right to die between 2009 and 2013. Of those, 525 actually took their own lives.
In 2009, the state's Supreme Court ruled that Montana's public policy supports mentally competent, terminally ill patients being able to choose aid in dying. Physicians are allowed to prescribe medication that patients must administer themselves. More detailed legislative bills have been introduced in the state but have not passed. The court ruling still stands today, but data about its usage is not available.
A law passed in 1942 forbade anyone from helping someone kill themselves for selfish reasons. As a result, people arguing that they are assisting with a suicide for unselfish motives are not considered to be committing a crime. Suicides can be assisted by people other than doctors and no medical condition needs to be established. Switzerland is the only country that allows foreigners to travel there for the purpose of ending their own lives.
In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent. In Europe, patients don't have to prove that they have a terminal illness -- establishing unbearable suffering is usually sufficient. Dutch doctors are allowed to perform euthanasia if a patient whose unbearable suffering has no hope of improvement asks to die with a full understanding of the situation. A second doctor must agree with the decision to help the patient die.