02/23/2015 07:02 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Assisted Suicide Law Can't Be Crafted In 12 Months, Say Tory MPs

OTTAWA - Some Conservative backbenchers want more time to ponder the issue of doctor-assisted dying than the 12 months allotted by the Supreme Court.

And at least one — Kitchener, Ont., MP Stephen Woodworth — says the government should use the controversial notwithstanding clause to override the what he termed the court's "incorrect and unwise time limit."

The backbenchers argue the issue is too complex and delicate to be rushed.

And they point out that Parliament will have even less time than usual to deal with the matter this year, given that a federal election is scheduled for October.

Earlier this month, the top court struck down the ban on doctor-assisted suicide.

It gave Parliament 12 months in which to draft legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.

But some Conservative backbenchers now say the government should ask the court for an extension.

"How can this possibly get done in a year?" Alberta MP Leon Benoit said Monday.

"Anybody who understands the process that has to be gone through to pass legislation through the House, especially legislation like this that'll take some time to pass, I mean I'm pretty sure that they must understand a year simply isn't enough time."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is slated to begin debate Tuesday on a motion calling on the government to create a special, multi-partisan committee to consult experts and Canadians on the issue. The Liberal motion calls on the committee to be up and running by March 11 and to report back to Parliament by the end of July with a recommended legal framework.

NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin signalled Monday that her party is likely to support the motion.

But a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government does not see the need for a special committee. Nor does it see the need to rush.

"Our government will act responsibly and study the decision with a view to proceeding thoughtfully and compassionately," said Clarissa Lamb. "We do not take this subject lightly."

The government's unhurried response on an issue that could divide Conservative ranks has sparked speculation that it would prefer to shelve the matter until after the election.

Although MacKay has ruled out using the notwithstanding clause to override the court ruling, Tory backbenchers don't necessarily agree.

Both Benoit and Woodworth railed Monday against the nine top court justices usurping the role of elected officials to determine social policy.

Woodworth said he'd use the notwithstanding clause to give Parliament more time to deal with the issue and would at least consider using it again to reinstate the ban on doctor-assisted suicide.

"I think that Parliament has to exert its authority if we are to remain a democracy."

In a lengthy reflection on the court ruling on his website, Saskatchewan MP David Anderson said the government has four options: do nothing, craft a new law within 12 months, ask the court for an extension or invoke the notwithstanding clause.

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