Trudeau pressed to ensure less restrictive assisted-dying law a priority

Trudeau pressed to ensure less restrictive assisted-dying law a priority

OTTAWA — Even before he swears in his new cabinet, Justin Trudeau is being urged to ask his new justice minister to move swiftly to make Canada’s assisted-dying law less restrictive.

The prime minister has said he’ll comply with a September court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional the requirement that only those near death can qualify for medical help to end their suffering.

In her ruling, Quebec Superior Court Judge Christine Baudouin gave the government six months — until March 2020 — to amend the law, although the government could seek an extension.

Dying with Dignity Canada is urging Trudeau, who is to unveil his new cabinet on Wednesday, to ensure whomever he appoints as justice minister will give priority to amending the law — and go further than the ruling demands.

For starters, the group wants the government to get rid of the requirement that a person’s natural death must be reasonably foreseeable in order to qualify for a doctor-assisted death. That is the provision struck down by Baudouin.

But it also wants the government to drop the stipulation that someone must be able to give informed consent twice: once when they request the procedure and again immediately prior to receiving it.

The requirement to give consent a second time has stripped some people, who’ve been approved for an assisted death, of their ability to follow through after their condition deteriorated and they lost the capacity to give last-minute consent.

In other cases, people who feared losing capacity have refused brain-fogging pain medication or have been forced to receive a doctor-assisted death sooner than they wanted.

Dying with Dignity Canada has been lobbying hard for an end to the second consent requirement.

They are calling for ”Audrey’s amendment” in memory of Audrey Parker, a Halifax woman who was suffering from terminal breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. She had been approved for an assisted death but ended her life earlier than she had originally wanted last fall because she feared she was losing mental capacity.

“We would like to see (these changes) high on the list of priorities because there are real cases of real people who are waiting for this to happen,” said Jim Cowan, a former Liberal senator who is now chair of the Dying with Dignity Canada board.

Longer term, the group wants the government to change the law to allow people to make advance requests for an assisted death but Cowan suspects the government will want more time to debate that.

The issue must be dealt with, in any event, under the legally required parliamentary review of the assisted dying law that must be launched by next June.

The review must also deal with two other issues left unresolved in the 2016 legislation: whether it should apply to mature minors and those suffering solely from mental illnesses.

Dying with Dignity Canada is urging the government to include it in preparing for the review. Cowan noted that the group has a lot of data and personal stories about how the law has worked and “where the difficulties lie.”

Cowan declined to comment on who his group might like to see as justice minister.

However, it’s likely that Dying with Dignity Canada and other groups advocating for a less restrictive law would prefer to see Montreal MP David Lametti remain in the post.

They were thrilled when Trudeau plucked Lametti from the backbenches last January to take on the justice portfolio. He was one of just four Liberal MPs who had voted against the Trudeau government’s 2016 legislation that legalized medical assistance in dying.

The former law professor had argued the law was too restrictive and did not meet the eligibility criteria set out by the Supreme Court in a landmark 2015 ruling that struck down the prohibition on doctor-assisted death — an opinion eventually echoed by Baudouin.

The law was originally spearheaded by former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, now an Independent MP, who rejected calls for changes even in the face of anguished pleas from Parker and others.

During the recent election campaign, Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and Green Leader Elizabeth May all agreed that the government should comply with Baudouin’s ruling. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he’d appeal it.

Trudeau’s Liberals won a minority of seats in the House of Commons and will need the support of either the NDP or the Bloc to pass legislation — which should be relatively assured in the case of amendments to the assisted-dying law.

“We support Dying with Dignity Canada’s call for the government to re-examine this law,” NDP MP Don Davies said in a statement Monday.

“The recent court ruling in Quebec highlights the problem with the current … rules and as Jagmeet Singh mentioned during the last campaign, we are committed to improving the law to ensure that everyone has the right to die in dignity.”

This Canadian Press report was first published Nov. 18, 2019.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Alberta confirmed 1,584 COVID-19 cases Sunday afternoon. The total active cases went… Continue reading

Hockey Canada logo at an event in Toronto on November 1, 2017. A “non-core member” of Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team staff has tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Hockey Canada staff member tests positive for COVID-19 in Red Deer

A “non-core member” of Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team staff has tested… Continue reading

A man makes his way across an office tower bridge during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. At least two provinces are reporting new highs for daily COVID-19 infections on Saturday, after the federal government’s latest modelling data showed Canada could see 20,000 cases each day if people keep up their current number of contacts and interactions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 cases keep surging in Canada as four provinces report new one-day highs

OTTAWA — Four provinces reported new highs for daily COVID-19 infections on… Continue reading

Minister of International Trade Mary Ng watches pre-recorded footage from an earlier videoconference that she participated in with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, during a news conference on the Canada-United Kingdom Trade Continuity Agreement in Ottawa, on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canada, Britain ink new trade deal, beating Brexit, incorporating expiring EU pact

OTTAWA — Canada and Britain struck a new trade deal on Saturday,… Continue reading

Lynn Van Laar, Christmas Wish Breakfast organizing committee chair, said this year’s event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses after responding to a question about the holidays during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau joins G20 in promising COVID-19 aid to poor nations, rejecting protectionism

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined leaders from the world’s 20… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The federal bill revising the rules on medically assisted death in Canada has raised the ire of the Canadian Psychiatric Association over the proposed law’s explicit rejection of mental illness as grounds for ending a patient’s life. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental illness in assisted dying-bill slammed by psychiatrists

OTTAWA — The federal bill revising the rules on medically assisted death… Continue reading

The Quebec flag is seen on the podium as Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet responds to a question during a news conference Wednesday June 3, 2020 in Ottawa. Perennial anxieties around the state of the French language in Quebec have boiled over in the past week, with politicians seizing on a Liberal MP’s initial brush-off of the issue as evidence of indifference to a crisis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Angst around French language boils over in Quebec, as politicians warn of ‘decline’

MONTREAL — Perennial anxieties around the state of the French language in… Continue reading

Numuch Keitlah, left, and Jake Thomas, centre, participate in a Coastal Nations search and rescue exercise off the coast of Vancouver Island in this undated handout photo. The recently operational Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary has more than 50 members from five Indigenous territories who are trained in marine search and rescue. They are on call day and night to respond to emergencies along some of B.C.’s most rugged and remote coastal areas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Jordan Wilson *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Canada’s first Indigenous-led coast guard auxiliary patrols B.C.’s rugged coast

VICTORIA — The winds were gusting at 110 kilometres per hour and… Continue reading

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has sponsored the VanVleet Court at the BMO Harris Bank Center in Rockford, Ill. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Fred VanVleet signs four-year, US$85-million deal with Toronto Raptors

TORONTO — Fred VanVleet, one of the most coveted players in free… Continue reading

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
‘Hardship is not a new thing:’ Nunavut fights COVID-19 as cases continue to rise

IQALUIT — It has been just over two weeks since Nunavut declared… Continue reading

Pedestrians walk past Pfizer world headquarters in New York on Monday Nov. 9, 2020. Despite recent optimism over reported results from COVID-19 vaccine trials,<br>Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have recently announced they're developed COVID-19 vaccines that are 95 per cent effective. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Bebeto Matthews
A long way from lab bench to bedside: Virus experts urge COVID-19 vaccine caution

Despite recent optimism over reported results from COVID-19 vaccine trials, virologists say… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
After COVID-related transplant delays, 16-year-old N.S. girl gets lung transplant

‘This is the difficult time now of seeing Tahlia in ICU hooked up to 15 IVs and sedated’

Most Read