Court grants extension to federal government for revising euthanasia legislation

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted regular debate in the House of Commons.

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

A Quebec court has agreed to allow the federal government to put off making changes to Canada’s medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia law until mid-December.

The extension granted by Justice Quebec Superior Court Justice Frederic Bachand on June 29, 2020 now means that the federal government has until Dec. 18 to bring the country’s euthanasia rules into compliance with a 2019 ruling by Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin that had stripped the federal law of one of its key restrictions.

Justice Baudouin ruled that the 2016 requirement that a Canadian’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for a medically-assisted suicide was an unconstitutional restriction and she gave the government six months to bring federal law in compliance with her ruling.

Although critics of expanding who qualifies for euthanasia in Canada have slammed the federal government’s decision not to appeal that original Quebec court decision, the federal government claims that a two-week online survey of the government’s proposed changes to the existing-legislation shows that the public supports the assisted death system and the changes proposed.

The federal government’s proposed changes to euthanasia rules as 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 lose capacity to consent before MAiD (“medical assistance in death”) can be provided.” And it specifically states that it excludes “eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness.”

The government’s proposed Bill C-7 went through First Reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 24, 2020. However, the federal government asked for and was granted a four-month extension of the timeline to comply with the Quebec court ruling soon after that. Justice Baudouin agreed to an extension request on March 2, giving the federal government until July 11 to make changes to the national euthanasia system. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the House of Commons for five weeks starting in March and Parliament has been functioning on a limited basis since then.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges, including the disruption of the current parliamentary session,” a federal statement said when the government asked for a second extension. “A five-month extension of the ruling’s suspension period is needed to provide sufficient time for Parliament to properly consider and enact this proposed legislation, which is of importance to many Canadians and families across the country.”

The federal government conducted an online survey open to all Canadians to express their views on changes to medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia in January and has said the proposed changes enjoyed overwhelming support through that the process. Public opinion polls have also consistently shown that a large majority of Canadians support the euthanasia system.

But opponents of euthanasia such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops dismiss the government’s online survey as being biased and argue that issues of life and death should not be determined by public opinion polls.

“It is very troubling that the introduction of Bill C-7 was justified on the basis of a highly questionable, biased and rushed online survey, which took place over just two weeks,” a statement from the CCCB released Feb. 26 said, adding that “the questions in this survey were framed in a manner which presupposed agreement with euthanasia and assisted suicide, including its broadening, without giving Canadians who are opposed an equal voice.”

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada with Catholic faithful as well as innumerable other Canadians – religious or otherwise – remain opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide in any form because of their interest in protecting and promoting human life, because it is always wrong to take the life of an innocent person, and because medical science and compassionate care have provided effective ways of easing pain and suffering without having to resort to direct killing,” the CCCB statement said.