Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Senators Air Concerns about Assisted Dying Bill, Grill Ministers

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Senators Air Concerns about Assisted Dying Bill, Grill Ministers

Article excerpt

Assisted dying bill gets rough ride in Senate

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OTTAWA - The Trudeau government's controversial assisted dying bill made its official debut in the Senate on Wednesday and the initial reviews were devastating.

Conservative, independent Liberal and independent senators alike panned the legislation as they grilled first Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and then Health Minister Jane Philpott for four hours in the upper house.

The depth and breadth of senators' objections suggest there's little likelihood the bill will be passed by the Senate without some major amendments, which would take the government well past June 6 -- the day on which the ban on medical assistance in dying will be formally lifted in accordance with last year's landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Philpott went repeatedly into what she called "plead mode," urging senators to pass the bill by the deadline or risk having doctors refuse to provide assisted dying due to the legal uncertainty surrounding it.

That prompted independent Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer to go into a plead mode of her own.

"I'm sure all my colleagues have heard from thousands of Canadians with great pleas about (how) this is not the right legislation," Jaffer told Philpott.

Sen. Art Eggleton, another independent Liberal, said it would be "better to get this right than to get it fast."

The most frequent objection concerned the government's insistence that only those who are near death will be eligible for medical assistance to end their lives. Numerous senators said that flies in the face of the Supreme Court ruling and the charter of rights.

"You are excluding those who are not at the end of their lives and you're forcing those individuals to perhaps stop feeding themselves, to mutilate themselves or harm themselves to make themselves eligible for medical assistance in dying," said Conservative Senate leader Claude Carignan.

Newly-appointed independent Sen. Andre Pratte said the bill will allow those near death to shorten their lives by a few weeks or months while forcing those who aren't near death to suffer for years.

"From a logical and human perspective, it seems indefensible to me," he said.

Conservative Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie said the bill offers no protection for "the very most vulnerable Canadians, those who are suffering horribly from a disease that may last for years."

"How can you justify such a possible cruel interpretation (of the court ruling)?" he asked Wilson-Raybould.

In what's known as the Carter decision, the Supreme Court ruled that consenting adults have a right to seek medical help to end their lives if they have "grievous and irremediable" medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they deem intolerable.

Bill C-14 sets out considerably more restrictive eligibility criteria, allowing assisted dying only for clearly consenting adults "in an advanced stage of irreversible decline" from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is "reasonably foreseeable. …

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