Physician-Assisted Death – Bill C-14

On April 14, 2016, the government introduced Bill C-14 that would legalize medical assistance in dying if it comes into force.

To understand the implications of the language in Bill C-14, a bit of history is in order. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada held that a blanket ban on assisted death was unconstitutional, and ordered Parliament to draft right-to-die legislation that respects the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) specifically held that the test for qualifying for medically assisted death in Canada should be: competent adult persons that (1) clearly consent to the termination of life, and (2) have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.

Bill C-14 does not go that far. The key is found in the proposed s. 241.2(2)(d), where the eligibility criterion of having a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” is defined.

Grievous and irremediable medical condition

(2) A person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition if

(a) they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability;

(b) they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability;

(c) that illness, disease or disability or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable; and

(d) their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances, without a prognosis necessarily having been made as to the specific length of time that they have remaining.

(emphasis added)

The condition that the person’s natural death be reasonably foreseeable can be interpreted to mean that a person wishing to qualify for medical assistance in dying must be in the terminal stages of illness. This requires more than the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that the test for qualifying should simply be those who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.

While controversy stirs from all sides as the new Bill C-14 is hotly debated in the press, the government now has about five weeks to debate, study and pass the bill before the Supreme Court’s June 6 deadline. The justice committee will likely have time to study and propose amendments before the deadline. It remains to be seen, however, whether any amendments will be proposed, or whether Bill C-14 will even be passed. Updates on this matter will follow.

Thank you to Kevin Tjia for assisting with this blog post.

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