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Put Into Place An Assisted Dying Act That Lives Forever

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Parliament of Canada, Ottawa and Sunset | via Getty Images

Tensions are high right now in Parliament. Our politicians are being expected to vote on something that makes them have to question their own moral values. It may be partly to blame for the recent kerfuffle ithe goan the House of Commons, but we shouldn't get sidetracked by the latest lack of decorum. Instead we need to focus on the task at hand.

Our elected leaders are hopefully digging deep and trying to figure out what the right path is for Canada on Bill C-14: the Liberal's legislation on medically assisted dying. It's not an easy task. It may be the most important piece of legislation some of these MPs ever vote on. It's remarkable that our country has even gotten to this point in the first place, but we need to take it slow.

The bill has to pass in the upper and lower chambers. While the Senate has made it clear they need more time to debate it, the House is expected to vote on the act sometime soon. In fact, Wednesday's #elbowgate incident happened leading up to a vote on a motion to limit debate on the bill, which did not pass. So why the rush? It's because of a June 6 deadline imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Feb. 6, 2015, in a game-changing unanimous decision in Carter v. Canada, the court found the prohibition against Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) was unconstitutional. In particular, section 241(1) and s. 14 of the Canadian Criminal Code violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Therefore, the court ruled, the government had exactly one year to change the current legislation and decriminalize PAD.

By January, as the one-year mark was approaching, we now had a new government in power that needed more time to enact the law. So in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed four more months for Ottawa to get their act in gear. That brought the deadline from Feb. 6, 2016 to June 6, 2016, which is now just over two weeks away.

The goal of Bill C-14 is to clearly list conditions when seriously ill patients can end their lives with the help of their physician and/or nurse practitioners. As it currently stands, however, some groups find the legislation too vague, while others find it too restrictive. Nevertheless, whether you support Bill C-14 or not, and whether the act passes or not, the current prohibition on PAD is ending. It becomes law on June 6, 2016.

That's scary for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is warning if nothing is passed in time there will be a "legal vacuum" with "no safeguards" in place, since doctors won't know how to implement the Carter case. However, some Senators are not so concerned, seeing that for the last four months PAD has already been happening in this country, albeit after judicial review of applications.

So as June 6 approaches, knowing the Senate won't meet the deadline, now what? Will the government of Canada or the attorney generals of each or one of the provinces bring an application to the Supreme Court to extend the current extension?

The case in January was so novel. Could it be done again? Would that mean a continuance of judicial review, something the PAD advocacy groups are trying to avoid? The government would be laughed at for coming back to the court for more time, but at least important debates on the wording of the act wouldn't be rushed.

Good on our politicians for dealing with such a polarizing issue and really examining what they believe in.

As Senator James Cowan, the leader of the Liberal caucus in the red chamber, recently said, "June 6, in my view, is not a drop-dead date. We have to get it right."

Regardless though of when this happens, good on our politicians for dealing with such a polarizing issue and really examining what they believe in. MPs are not voting on party lines, but are free to vote with their conscience. That's rare -- we don't see that too often in the House of Commons. Over the half century there haven't been even a dozen topics where members didn't have to vote in accordance with the dictates of their party whips. Debating capital punishment and motions on the flag were the rare exception.

In June, 2005, same-sex marriage was a vote on one's morality, but the NDP didn't allow its members a free vote on that issue and Liberal cabinet ministers were required to vote in support, while other MPs could vote based on their own beliefs.

In a 273-1 vote in June of last year, Canada's elected parliamentarians voted that on matters of conscience they should be able to do so free of party wishes. Seriously? We needed a vote on that? And yet, in light of what they're taking on now it seems to make sense.

There are MPs who are standing against their party's traditional position on PAD. It's brave to be bold and go against the current, even when you are allowed to. Others have personal, religious or cultural experiences that are swaying their views.

That might not be right, considering they were elected to represent their constituents and to be objective. However, isn't personal experience what makes us all human? At the end of the day, isn't that what we want our MPs to be: humans with a conscience, just like us?

I say bravo to Canada for being so mature and moving into this next phase of life as a nation. It's as if we're transitioning from our teenage years into adulthood. However, we need to remember that if we want to be grown up, we need to act like it.

Life moves fast, but sometimes we need to slow down. We can't make rash decisions that haven't been thought through. Like it or not, PAD is becoming the law and if it's here to stay, let's at least make sure we put in place an act that has been given its proper due course so that it will live forever.

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