The Liberal government is taking unusual steps to get its physician-assisted dying bill passed before the Supreme Court's June 6 deadline, with MPs debating late into the night and committees in both houses of Parliament hearing from dozens of witnesses in advance to save time.
MPs were scheduled to sit until midnight on Monday, and possibly for the next few days, to ensure everyone gets a say on the government's right-to-die bill, which is facing criticism from all sides.
The debate is also unfolding under a strict timeline set out by the Supreme Court, which gave Parliament until June 6 to pass a new law that defines how those suffering intolerably can end their lives with the help of a medical professional.
At stake is the Liberal government's vision for bringing physician-assisted dying to the entire country for the first time, sharply contrasted with the Supreme Court decision that many believe leaves the door open to more people accessing the procedure.
"It would be irresponsible to let June 6 come and go without a federal law in place," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the justice and human rights committee on Monday.
The government's Bill C-14 takes a more restrictive approach than the Supreme Court decision, defining a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition as being an incurable illness or disease, and adding the provision that a patient's "natural death has become reasonably foreseeable."
"Medical assistance in dying should not be available for any and all types of suffering," Ms. Wilson-Raybould said.
Ms. Wilson Raybould, along with Health Minister Jane Philpott, faced questions from the all-party committee for more than an hour on Monday.
Conservative MPs asked why there were no conscience protections for doctors written into the bill. "There's nothing in here that compels a medical practitioner to participate," Dr. Philpott, a family doctor, told the committee.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould also defended her bill as complying with the Supreme Court decision, as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the Liberals' own MPs on the committee, Chris Bittle, asked why there was at least a 15-day waiting period between the request for assisted death and the procedure.
"I'm concerned that forcing someone to wait 15 days, 16 days, 17 days, in a typical case, while they're suffering and in pain, may be arbitrary and have issues under Section 7 [of the Charter], and may even be cruel and unusual," he said.
Dr. Philpott replied that, "It's my understanding that there is no other legislation in the world on the matter of assistance in dying that does not have a mandatory waiting period."
Before Monday's meeting, Dr. Philpott said her government is "respectful" of the committee process and looks forward to hearing its recommendations.
"Having said that … we've already put a lot of thought into this and heard from a number of Canadians," she said. "We believe that the legislation introduces the right approach for Canada and we'll just keep listening and we look forward to hopefully seeing it pass in due time."
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who chairs the committee, told The Globe last week all members of the committee are open to hearing about how the bill can be improved.
"Definitely there can be amendments, there's no doubt. That's part of what the committee is there to do," Mr. Housefather said in an interview. "There will be a process that you didn't see in the previous House, I believe, of a committee that is actually considering legislation, hearing witnesses, and having the freedom to propose amendments."
To meet the deadline, both the House of Commons and the Senate will be hearing from witnesses before the bill has even passed the second reading phase in Parliament, expected at the end of this week.
The 10-member parliamentary committee has agreed to sit for the next two weeks in the evenings to hear from about 40 witnesses, including legal experts, doctors and faith-based groups.
The Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee is also conducting its own prestudy of the bill this week and next, with the goal of sending any amendments to the House of Commons before it passes the bill. The bill will then make its way back to the Senate for further study.
"Time is of the essence if we are to get a bill in place by the 6th of June," said Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan, who previously told The Globe it's "not the end of the world" if the legislation isn't passed by deadline.
"We have the [Supreme Court] decision and that's pretty clear, but I think it would be desirable to have legislation in place. Now whether this is the right legislation or not, that's what we have the hearings for," he said.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said both she and Dr. Philpott have been meeting with senators and are both to appear at the Senate committee this week.
"Without federal legislation in this regard there would be challenges and questions about what types of safeguards are in place, what protections are in place for patients, in place for doctors," she said after the committee.
"I believe that we're going to have legislation in place."