POLITICS
10/03/2019 15:35 EDT | Updated 10/03/2019 19:07 EDT

Liberals Would Expand Medically Assisted Dying, Conservatives Still Opposed

The NDP agree further review is needed.

MONTREAL — A re-elected Liberal government would expand Canadians’ eligibility for medically assisted dying with legislation to bring the law into line with a recent court ruling, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says.

“When it comes to an issue that is so important, so delicate, so difficult for so many families, the government needs to make sure we’re getting the balance right,” Trudeau said Thursday.

A Quebec Superior Court judge invalidated sections of the federal and Quebec laws on medically assisted dying last month, ruling they were too restrictive and therefore unconstitutional.

Trudeau said the Liberals would review the court decision to see how the law could be improved upon, avoiding specifics but stressing a “balance between protecting the most vulnerable and making sure people’s rights and choices are respected.”

Trudeau added he always expected the law to evolve following its passage through Parliament three years ago, particularly as legal challenges tested the limits of the rules.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speaks to the media Thursday, October 3, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec.

“We recognize that court cases would come in, that people would be evolving as a society,″ Trudeau said at a stop in the Montreal riding of Outremont, which the Liberals took from the NDP in a by-election. “We will move forward in a responsible way with legislation that responds to that.”

The judge invalidated a Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” before someone can be eligible for assisted death. The condition has prevented some people from accessing the end-of-life procedure.

She also invalidated a section of the Quebec law that says people must “be at the end of life.”

The decision, part of a larger societal debate, means that more people will be able to get help from a doctor to end their lives.

Trudeau said Wednesday night during a televised French-language debate that the government would not appeal the ruling. Quebec’s health and justice ministers said Thursday afternoon that the province also would not appeal.

Tories would do opposite

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated Thursday he would do the opposite, though the deadline to appeal will have passed by the time Parliament reconvenes after the Oct. 21 election.

“I voted against the current government’s legislation because I did not believe that it had enough safeguards in it. And now with this ruling, I think it’s best that we appeal it to the Supreme Court so we can get certainty...for the framework within which a Parliament can legislate,” Scheer said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh voiced his support for a revised law, calling the criteria to access a medically assisted death “too limited.”

“To die with dignity is an important choice that people should be able to make,″ he said at a campaign stop in Toronto. “I think that given that court decision and given a lot of concerns I’ve heard, we definitely need to look at removing some of the restrictions.”

WATCH: Woman planning assisted death on her fight to change the law. Story continues below. 

Physician-assisted dying has remained a battleground issue since it became legal in Quebec in December 2015, and nationwide in June 2016.

In May, Ontario’s highest court ruled that doctors in the province must give referrals for medical services — including assisted deaths and abortion — that clash with their religious beliefs, calling it a compromise that balances the rights of physicians and the interests of patients.

At least 6,749 Canadians went ahead with a medically assisted death between June 2016 and October 2018, according to an April report from Health Canada. Cancer was the most frequently cited condition.

In December 2016 the Trudeau government commissioned an expert panel to look into broader criteria for assisted-dying eligibility, including mature minors, advance requests and cases “where a mental disorder is the sole underlying condition” according to Health Canada.

Trudeau highlighted the “need to live in dignity,” pledging Thursday to put in place further supports for palliative care and people with disabilities so that assisted dying is not a choice made for want of care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2019.