All senators will get chance to propose amendments to assisted dying law

Every senator will get a chance to propose amendments to the federal government's proposed new law on medically assisted dying.

OTTAWA — Every senator will get a chance to propose amendments to the federal government’s proposed new law on medically assisted dying.

The Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee has decided to forgo the usual procedure of recommending amendments to the upper house.

With so many senators keenly interested in Bill C-14, committee members have decided they’d be wasting time and effort to try to come up with amendments just among themselves.

Instead, all senators will be involved in proposing amendments during debate on third and final reading of the bill, which is expected to start Wednesday.

Given the disparate views of senators, with some thinking the bill goes too far and others feeling it doesn’t go far enough, Sen. George Baker predicts there will be “many, many” amendments proposed.

Baker, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, says he’s never seen a bill provoke so much interest.

“I say this is extraordinary because I have never seen in my history on the Hill of more than 40 years a situation where so many senators or members of Parliament wish to participate and a great many of them wish to put forward amendments,” Baker told the committee Tuesday.

Sen. Andre Pratte warned it will be a “huge challenge” to keep the amendment process orderly and respectful.

In a bid to prevent lengthy debate on each and every amendment, Sen. James Cowan, leader of the independent Liberals, is urging senators to circulate their proposed amendments among themselves and agree to group them together for debate by subject matter: eligibility criteria, safeguards, regulations and so on.

While senators continue to deliberate the bill, the country is now without a criminal law governing medical assistance in dying. In the absence of a law, the procedure will be governed by the eligibility criteria spelled out by the Supreme Court in its landmark Carter decision last year and by guidelines issued by medical regulators in each province.

When the top court struck down the ban on assisted dying, it gave Parliament a year, later extended by four months, to craft a new law. That deadline passed on Monday.

In its ruling, the court said assisted dying should be available to consenting adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions causing enduring suffering that is intolerable to them.

The government has taken a more restrictive approach in Bill C-14, which would make assisted dying available only to those in an advanced stage of irreversible decline and for whom a natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

Some senators believe the bill is unconstitutional because it does not comply with the Carter decision or the charter of rights. Others maintain it doesn’t impose enough safeguards to protect the vulnerable or to protect the conscience rights of health-care providers who refuse to provide assistance in dying.

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