Allow advance requests for assisted-death, forget June 6 deadline: senators

Senators say there's no way they'll pass the federal government's medically assisted dying bill by the court-imposed deadline of June 6 — and they may not pass it at all if it isn't amended to allow advance requests from those diagnosed with competence-eroding conditions like dementia.

OTTAWA — Senators say there’s no way they’ll pass the federal government’s medically assisted dying bill by the court-imposed deadline of June 6 — and they may not pass it at all if it isn’t amended to allow advance requests from those diagnosed with competence-eroding conditions like dementia.

That double-barrelled warning Tuesday was the clearest sign yet that the controversial legislation is in for a rocky ride when it gets to the upper house.

It is expected to pass the House of Commons relatively easily by Thursday, although procedural wrangling among the three main parties delayed the start of final debate on the bill until Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours later than the government had hoped.

Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc eventually gave notice that the government will impose Wednesday a time limit on the debate.

But the government has few levers to get its way in the unelected Senate, where independents dominate and there are no longer any senators directly affiliated with the ruling Liberals.

The one hammer the government had held over the Senate was the deadline, with ministers issuing dire warnings that if the bill was not passed by June 6, there would be a legal void in which assisted dying would available without any safeguards.

But at a meeting Tuesday, Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan and independent Liberal Leader James Cowan informed the government’s representative, Sen. Peter Harder, that it’s simply not possible for the bill to get through all legislative stages, including committee hearings, in the upper house in just one week. That’s all the time that would be left to deal with the bill, assuming it is sent to the Senate at the end of this week, because Parliament is not sitting next week.

“There’s no way that it’ll get through … by the sixth of June,” Cowan said in an interview after the meeting with Harder, adding that the government isn’t happy about it but “they accept the fact it’s not going to happen.”

“It’s a very serious bill and we can’t rush it.”

Carignan said he thinks the Senate will need an additional two weeks to deal with the bill. Both he and Cowan shrugged off the government’s warnings about a legal void if the deadline is not met.

They pointed out that the Supreme Court’s ruling set parameters for assisted dying that will apply in the absence of a federal law and that provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons have issued guidelines as well.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, which has conducted a pre-study of the bill before it’s passed by the Commons, recommended 10 amendments that the committee chair, Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman, said the Commons “would be wise to consider” before passing the bill and sending it on to the Senate.

“The report is an indication that senators have some serious reservations about parts of this bill,” he said.

If the government does not allow advance directives, Conservative Sen. Vern White, a committee member, said “it’s to the legislation’s peril.” He said it’s a “great question” whether the Senate would pass the bill without that amendment.

The committee’s recommendations are contradictory, underscoring the deep divisions the bill has created in the Senate and suggesting the government may have difficulty satisfying a majority of senators.

While the majority of committee members wants the bill to be more permissive for those diagnosed with dementia and other capacity-eroding conditions, it is simultaneously urging the government to be more restrictive generally about who is eligible for assisted death.

The majority recommends that assisted dying be provided only to those with terminal illnesses, although that would appear to fly in the face of last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling.

The top court recognized the right to an assisted death for clearly consenting adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions who are enduring physical or mental suffering that they find intolerable.

The government is already taking a more restrictive approach than the court, contending that assisted death should be available only for clearly consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom a natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

The committee issued its recommendations Tuesday so that the government would have a chance to incorporate them into the bill before it passes the Commons.

If the recommendations are ignored, senators could choose to amend the bill after it is passed by the Commons, which would mean the bill would have to be sent back to the Commons to accept or reject the amendments and then shipped back to the Senate — a time-consuming game of legislative ping-pong that would take the government well past the June 6 deadline.

Among the recommendations accepted unanimously or by a majority of committee members:

— Remove any mention of the government’s promise to consider or to launch independent reviews related to extending assisted dying to mature minors and those who are suffering solely from mental illness.

— Maintain the requirement of a 15-day waiting period between the day a person requests an assisted death and the day it is provided and increase that waiting period to 90 days for those with a mental health condition.

— Strengthen conscience rights, explicitly adding a provision that no health professional or health care institution is compelled to provide assistance in dying.

The committee also raises “serious concern” that the bill would allow lethal drugs prescribed for a person granted an assisted death to be kept for months or years before being used, with no safeguard that the patient’s express consent is given at the time of death.

Just Posted

Downtown Red Deer was packed with people who lined the streets to watch the Westerner Days parade on Wednesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Westerner Days parade cancelled, full details on modified event coming June 28

The 2021 edition of Westerner Days will look much different than any… Continue reading

City council wants to hear from the public at a May 25 hearing about whether the temporary homeless shelter should be allowed to remain in the downtown for another year. (Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer staff to recommend another extension to allow operations at current temporary shelter site

Following some more research city administration has received no other new locations… Continue reading

A scene from the short Western ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws,’ written and directed by Jason Steele, with support from Telus Storyhive. (Contributed image)
Red Deerians make ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws’ short Western film

Writer and director Jason Steele received a $20,000 Storyhive grant from Telus

Residents in several neighbourhoods reported little to no water pressure Tuesday night. (File photo by Advocate staff)
City hall to reopen for payments and customer service

Red Deer City Hall will reopen on June 21 for utility and… Continue reading

Char Rausch was selected as this year’s recipient of the Bob Stollings Award, which goes to an employee who has displayed outstanding civic performance in alignment with The City’s Cornerstone Values – Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
Char Rausch wins City of Red Deer Bob Stollings Award

The City of Red Deer is honouring employees differently this year. With… Continue reading

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) as he looks for an opening during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday, June 18, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Curry, Harris help 76ers stay alive, hold off Hawks 104-99

76ers 104 Hawks 99 (Series tied 3-3) ATLANTA — Seth Curry hit… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a two-dose fall is… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Mendicino has announced a new policy to help settle 500 refugees and their families in a news conference today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year: Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced plans to expedite applications and increase the… Continue reading

Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, plays his shot from the third tee during the second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Friday, June 18, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Bland leads at Torrey and shows the US Open is truly open

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Open prides itself on being the most… Continue reading

The Prime Minister's car waits outside the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg Tuesday, May 19, 2009. The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is showing no sign he'll release unredacted documents about the firing of two scientists at Canada's highest security laboratory — despite the prospect of being publicly shamed in the House of Commons for his refusal to turn them over. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
PHAC head maintains he’s bound by law not to release docs on fired scientists

OTTAWA — The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant in Canada

OTTAWA — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly… Continue reading

Various vaping nicotine e-liquids or "juice" are shown in a lab at Portland State University in in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products… Continue reading

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Most Read