OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is insisting that medical assistance in dying should only be available to Canadians near death, showing no inclination to accept a Senate amendment to expand the right to those suffering from non-terminal conditions.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the Senate amendment upsets the delicate balance the government has struck in Bill C-14 between respecting personal autonomy and protecting the vulnerable.
The amendment, passed late Wednesday, knocks out the central pillar underpinning the government’s proposed new law as assisted dying.
It deletes the requirement that only those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” should be eligible to seek medical help to end their lives. And it replaces the bill’s restrictive eligibility standard with the more permissive criteria set out in last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, which struck down the ban on medically assisted dying.
“The amendment that was passed last night is a significant one,” Wilson-Raybould said Thursday.
“It will broaden the regime of medical assistance in dying in this country and we have sought to ensure that we, at every step, find the right balance that is required for such a turn in direction.”
Health Minister Jane Philpott said she’s personally concerned that the amendment would mean people suffering strictly from mental illnesses would be eligible for assisted dying.
“We stand by the cohesiveness, the integrity of the piece of legislation that we put forward, that strikes that balance that we believe is necessary, that has had broad public support, that has been supported in a vote in the House of Commons,” Philpott said.
The ministers did not specifically say that the government will formally reject the amendment, which is just the first of many the Senate is expected to pass. It’s up to the House of Commons to determine whether to accept or reject amendments from the upper house.
But their continued defence of the bill and their dismissal of any substantive changes sets up the potential for a deadlock between the two houses of Parliament.
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said the apparent collision course between the two chambers is a sign of a bigger problem.
“We have the courts making laws in this country and now we have an unelected Senate changing the laws of an elected House,” Ambrose told a news conference Thursday.
“There’s even a larger debate here, which I think is upsetting a lot of my constituents and a lot of people across the country.”
Ambrose agreed with Wilson-Raybould that the bill strikes the right balance, although she actually voted against it.
The Senate is expected to continue debating the bill and voting on other amendments into next week.