Attorney general asks Supreme Court for extension on assisted suicide deadline

The Supreme Court of Canada must decide if it will grant a six-month extension to the federal government to respond to its landmark ruling on doctor-assisted death.

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada must decide if it will grant a six-month extension to the federal government to respond to its landmark ruling on doctor-assisted death.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Thursday Parliament should be given more time to consider all possible responses to the decision.

She also requested any opposing party be required to respond within three days, instead of the traditional 10-day window.

“Physician-assisted dying is a complex and deeply personal issue for Canadians of all ages and backgrounds,” Wilson-Raybould said in a statement.

“The federal government’s response will affect all of society. That is why we are firmly committed to including Canadians and taking the time to develop a thoughtful, sensitive and well-informed response.”

The federal government’s request for a delay has been backed by Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan, according to documents filed to the top court.

“The government of Saskatchewan supports such an application and would suggest an extension of a minimum of six months be considered to permit fuller consultation with health care providers and interested parties,” Saskatchewan Heath Minister Dustin Duncan said in a letter.

Last February, the court recognized the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a physician’s help. It also gave Parliament a year to respond to the ruling.

If the court opts for the proposed extension, the government would have until August to come up with a response.

There are some concerns, however, about the extended time frame.

The advocacy group Dying with Dignity expressed disappointment about the government’s request on Thursday.

“I absolutely understand the need to get the legislation right, I have no problem with further consultations, but I am gutted for the people who are waiting right now because this feels like an unnecessary extension,” said CEO Wanda Morris.

The government could allow the one-year timeline to elapse and for physician-assisted dying to be decriminalized, Morris added.

“The Supreme Court of Canada said that the government could legislate but didn’t have to,” she said.

The Liberal government plans to soon set the wheels in motion to begin responding to the decision. When the Commons sits next week, it intends to work towards establishing a special committee on the issue.

Prior to the election campaign, former justice minister Peter MacKay suggested the government — Conservative or otherwise — would likely need more time to respond to the Supreme Court.

MacKay insisted a response was necessary due to the legal void created by the ruling.

“To do otherwise, I think, would be dangerous and irresponsible,” MacKay said.

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