MP calls for pause on proposed changes to euthanasia legislation as court deadline nears

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted regular debate in the House of Commons, prompting calls for an extension to the deadline for new legislation governing medically-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada.

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN]  – A Conservative MP wants the federal government to ask the courts for more time to make changes to Canada’s euthanasia regulations as a court-imposed deadline this summer looms.

Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Dane Lloyd of Alberta said making changes to legislation that will make it easier for Canadians to legally kill themselves with the help of a doctor is too important an issue to rush into, given that the opportunity for debate in the House of Commons has been severely curtailed since early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no way they can push this through in the House and in the Senate and have any meaningful debate on such an important issue and make that deadline,” Lloyd told the Canadian Catholic News in an interview on June 1.

“It would be inappropriate to push this through at this time,” he said of a July 11 deadline to make Canada’s euthanasia/assisted suicide system fall in line with a Quebec court decision that ruled that one of the key aspects of the existing legislation is unconstitutional because it is too restrictive.

In addition, Lloyd said the number of deaths related to COVID-19 across the country at long-term care homes for seniors has exposed an issue that must be part of the debate surrounding MAiD going forward. “We need to know why some people think their only option is an assisted suicide,” he said.

“We need to review the situation,” Lloyd said, adding that the situation at some long-term care homes in Canada is “compelling” evidence that the way Canadian society treats and cares for seniors can be a factor that drives some people to request euthanasia.

“It calls into question that if at the end of their lives they really see (euthanasia/assisted suicide) as their only real option, or is it the case of being relegated to live in a form of hell,” he said of the “tragic situation” that some seniors find themselves in which has been exposed by the death toll and shocking conditions in some Canadian care homes over the past few months.

The federal government already asked for and was granted an extension to bring Canada’s system of legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia in line with a 2019 Quebec court ruling, but Lloyd said the minority federal Liberal government must ask for another extension because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the ability of parliament to address the issue.

“I don’t think any court would deny such a request under the circumstances,” he said, adding “we need to slow down on this.”

The proposed changes to the existing regulations surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide – which were also initially a reaction to a previous Supreme Court of Canada ruling – follows in the wake of a Quebec court decision in 2019 that declared one of the key aspects of the existing law, that a person’s death must already be reasonably foreseeable to qualify for a medically-assisted death, to be unconstitutional.

Both the federal and Quebec governments decided not to appeal that ruling, and the federal government said it would bring Canadian law in line with the Quebec court decision.  While the federal government put forward proposed changes to legislation in Bill C-7, which went through First Reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 24, 2020, it asked for and was granted a four-month extension of the timeline to comply with the Quebec court ruling.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin agreed to the extension request on March 2, giving the federal government until July 11 to make changes to the national system of legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the House of Commons for five weeks in March and parliament has been functioning on a limited basis since then.

As of June 1 the federal government had yet to decide how to proceed, whether to move forward in the House of Commons quickly to meet the deadline or seek another court extension, said Rachel Rappaport, spokesperson for federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti.

“We are very much aware of the time sensitivity here,” Rappaport said. “We are examining all the different options. We understand this is a very important issue and remains a top priority.

“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges, including the disruption of the current parliamentary session,” she said. “No decision has been taken at the present time.”

The federal government’s proposed changes to euthanasia legislation put forward in Bill C-7 would set up a two-tier system for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable and those whose death is not. It would also allow a waiver of final consent for those whose death is reasonably foreseeable but “who may who may lose capacity to consent” before euthanasia can be provided. It specifically states that it excludes “eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness.”

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