The family of Kay Carter, one of the two women at the centre of the case in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the ban on doctor-assisted dying, says the government's legislation responding to that decision must be amended to remove restrictions on the procedure.
Bill C-14 is stricter than the Supreme Court's ruling calling for doctor-assisted dying and the recommendations made by a parliamentary committee on the matter. The bill would apply only to mentally competent adults over 18 who have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, are in an "advanced state of irreversible decline in capacity," and are enduring intolerable suffering because of their condition.
Particularly concerning for the Carter family is the bill's requirement that doctor-assisted death be allowed only when "natural death has become reasonably foreseeable."
Lee Carter, the daughter of Kay Carter and one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, said her mother would not have been allowed a doctor-assisted death under the Liberal government's legislation as it currently stands. Kay Carter travelled to Switzerland in 2010 to end her life.
"Under the new proposed legislation for a medically assisted death in Canada, Kay Carter would not qualify. Her death wasn't necessarily foreseeable on account of her spinal stenosis. It may have taken her many years before she died from some other cause," Ms. Carter said at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday. "I just don't get it."
Ms. Carter was joined at the press conference by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which argued that the government's bill does not respect the Supreme Court's ruling and the rights of suffering Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"There was no requirement in the Supreme Court decision for death to be foreseeable on account of the patient's illness," BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson said. "We call on Parliament to amend this bill to ensure that it respects the Carter decision and that it does not exclude people whose death will not result from their illness."
Mr. Paterson said the government's legislation condemns people to endless suffering, leaving them with no choice but to take their lives while they are still able to, or to ask their family members to assist them in doing so.
He also raised concern about the government's decision to exclude some of the recommendations made by a joint parliamentary committee, including advanced consent for patients with degenerative conditions, such as dementia, and the eventual inclusion of mature minors under 18 and the mentally ill.
The government said it will delay its decision on those issues until one or more independent bodies study them. Mr. Paterson urged the government to set a "hard timeline" around such a study.
The government is under pressure to pass the new law by June 6, the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court. If it doesn't, the only federal regulation for doctor-assisted dying would be the court's ruling that the law apply to competent adults with a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition causing enduring suffering and who clearly consent to end their own life.
Mr. Paterson said the BCCLA, which brought the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, will consider challenging the bill in the courts if it passes in its current form.
The House of Commons debate on the legislation will start on Friday. All parties are allowing their MPs a free vote on the bill.