Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc says Liberal MPs on the committee studying the government's physician-assisted dying bill are acting independently as the group makes a few – but minor – changes to the legislation.
Members of the Liberal-dominated justice and human rights committee continued to sit for extended hours into Tuesday night as they study the government's Bill C-14 line by line. Mr. LeBlanc said he hopes the bill will make it back to the House of Commons for more debate and a vote next week before heading to the Senate, as the Supreme Court's June 6 deadline looms.
"We have said all along that the committees should undertake their work and their study independently," Mr. LeBlanc told reporters on Tuesday.
"We respect that the committee will do its process. We're not directing that committee process."
The committee has thus far rejected significant changes to the bill brought by opposition members, including the NDP's proposal for advance requests for patients suffering from degenerative diseases, or Conservative amendments to add judicial review or psychological assessments into the bill.
On Tuesday morning, however, all nine MPs on the committee supported one amendment from the Green Party, while one from the Bloc Québécois also passed with majority support. A Liberal amendment to change the waiting period to have access to physician-assisted dying from 15 days to 10 also passed with support from the one NDP MP, but without support from the three Conservatives.
"I thought a 15-day period was a pretty reasonable one," Conservative MP Michael Cooper said.
Colin Fraser, a Liberal MP who sits on the committee, proposed the 10-day waiting period after another Liberal colleague asked that it be seven days.
"We feel that we are certainly taking all amendments seriously from the opposition parties, and looking critically even at our own amendments to ensure that they are advancing what is best for the piece of legislation," he said.
Later in the day, the committee also passed a joint amendment brought by the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals, that says, "For greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying." But the committee chose not to include other Conservative amendments that asked for institutions to have the same rights, or a line that says every person is entitled to refuse to provide or refer medical assistance in dying.
Two Liberal motions, one in collaboration with the Conservatives, about health regulation and data collection also passed unanimously.
The Bloc amendment replaces language in the "safeguards" portion of the bill, which outlines what a doctor or nurse practitioner has to tell a patient before the procedure. The change removes a reference to a patient's "reasonably forseeable" death, and replaces it with "grievous and irremediable medical condition," which mimics the language of the Supreme Court but whose very definition in the bill also includes reasonably foreseeable death.
The Green Party amendment, introduced by Leader Elizabeth May, was slightly altered by Conservative MP Ted Falk and passed unanimously. That change adds further clarification for patients who request medical assistance in dying but have difficulty communicating, by adding a provision that "all necessary measures" are taken to provide "reliable means" for the person to understand and communicate their decision.
Ms. May said the fact that the Liberal members are making slight changes to the bill does create a better atmosphere in committee, but "it doesn't necessarily create a better law."
"I think the law still falls far short of what the Supreme Court established," she said.
NDP MP Murray Rankin, who is talks with both the Conservatives and Liberals to agree on an amendment to protect conscience rights for physicians, said in his view most changes to the bill have been technical.
Mr. Rankin asked that the committee include advance requests, as well as remove the definition of a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition so more people could qualify for the procedure. Some witnesses, including the lawyer who fought for the right to assisted dying at the Supreme Court, have warned that the bill is unconstitutional. Both changes were rejected by the Liberals and Conservatives.
"We've taken away from a whole class of Canadians, rights that they were granted by the Supreme Court of Canada. How can I as a lawyer support something I know to be unconstitutional?" Mr. Rankin said.