The Canadian Senate has approved, by a vote of 64-12, a bill to legalize doctor-assisted dying in the nation. The bill will be sent back to the House of Commons for a vote. The legislation is significantly different from the version the House originally sent to the Senate. It contains a total of seven amendments.
It is very unusual for the Senate to modify a law to this extent. A major point of contention within the bill has been the restriction of physician-assisted death to people whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Certain members of the government have stated that restricting this service to the terminally ill is non-negotiable, while others wish to extend it to the chronically, but not necessarily terminally, ill whose diseases are incurable and causing them unbearable suffering. The amended version of the bill does not include the element restricting doctor-assisted dying to patients who are “near death.” There are serious doubts about whether it will pass without this component.
“The bill aims to recognize the significant and continuing public health issue of suicide, which affects individuals, families and communities, to guard against death being seen as a solution to all forms of suffering, and to counter negative perceptions about the quality of life of persons who are elderly, ill or disabled,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould wrote.
“The government’s position is that the restriction of medical assistance in dying furthers these important objectives and does not infringe s.7 of the Charter,” which protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
However, Senator Peter Harder, the government’s new representative in the upper chamber, surprised many when he stood and announced he would support the amended bill.
“I will vote for the bill as presented tonight to ensure that engagement with the other chamber takes place appropriately, respectfully and that we re-engage at some point with equal respect and equal sense of obligation to serve Canadians,” said Harder.
“I hope that our amendments will be considered in the spirit and with the purpose that they were made; first to ensure the bill meets the threshold of constitutionality established by the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said before the free vote.
“But as importantly, to ensure that Bill C-14 addresses the needs and concerns of the many, many Canadians who are looking to all of us in Canada’s Parliament to provide a pathway out of unspeakable suffering they’ve been forced to ensure and hopefully to find the peace they seek.”