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doctor-assisted dying

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The Liberal-dominated committee studying the federal government's doctor-assisted dying legislation has rejected several opposition amendments, including a proposal that would allow people to make requests in advance.

NDP MP Murray Rankin submitted the amendment to Bill C-14 to allow those suffering from degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's to ask for the procedure in advance, before they lose capacity, as recommended by a special joint parliamentary committee that studied the subject for two months.

"I think the time has come. I think Canadians are certainly ready and will be very disappointed if this committee decides to pass it to another time," Mr. Rankin pleaded with the committee on Monday night, before his amendment was rejected by the other eight members, including five Liberals and three Conservatives.

The Liberals say they will introduce a motion for an independent review on the issue within six months of the bill's passing, Liberal MP Colin Fraser told the committee. "We need more study on this.We need to hear and consult broadly with all Canadians to make sure that we get this right," he said.

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, another committee member, agreed that more study is needed. "It would not be responsible to amend the legislation at this time," he said.

Bill C-14 is now in the hands of the justice and human-rights committee, which is studying the legislation during extended hours this week in a bid to get the bill back to the House of Commons by Friday in the face of a looming June 6 deadline from the Supreme Court of Canada.

MPs from all parties have submitted some 100 amendments to be considered by the committee – more than half of them from the Conservative caucus.

Conservative amendments that called for the addition of terminal illness, judicial oversight and psychological counselling for those suffering from mental illness who want to access the procedure were among those rejected by the committee. The committee did, however, adopt a Liberal amendment that addresses concerns about health workers providing information to patients.

The NDP also asked for the definition of a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition to be removed from the bill, and – along with the Green Party and Bloc Québécois – to take out the stipulation that a patient's "natural death has become reasonably foreseeable" in order to qualify. Many witnesses, including the lawyer who fought for the right to assisted dying at the Supreme Court, say it goes against the court's decision and is unconstitutional. The change was rejected by the committee.

Liberal MP Sean Casey, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, was dispatched on behalf of the government, calling the removal of the definition "fundamentally contrary to the government's policy choices" in the legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday the government is open to making changes – if necessary. "We're always open to good ideas and to making improvements to bills," he said. "We are currently reviewing the proposals from the opposition, and recommendations from Canadians, to see whether we can enhance the bill and whether there's a need to do that."

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who chairs the committee, told reporters he doesn't anticipate major changes to the legislation.

"My sense is that we see that the government has tried to achieve a balance with this bill, that it's a very hard balance with all of the different conflicting positions and rights," Mr. Housefather said. "We're not seeking to radically change the bill."

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