Senators spent four hours on Wednesday interrogating the ministers in charge of crafting the Liberal government's doctor-assisted dying bill, laying out a series of concerns that focused primarily on whether the legislation is too restrictive.
The questions come as the Senate ponders whether to amend Bill C-14, which passed in the House of Commons earlier this week – and almost certainly won't meet the Supreme Court of Canada's June 6 deadline.
After that date, it will be up to the provincial medical bodies to regulate the procedure within the framework of the court's decision, which ruled that consenting adults with a "grievous and irremediable" medical condition who are suffering intolerably have the right to end their lives with the help of a doctor. However, some of the bill's safeguards, such as a written request and reflection period for patients, will not be enshrined in law.
Many senators – from the Conservative, Senate Liberal and independent camps – asked Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott in their separate appearances in the Senate chamber to justify why their bill includes a requirement that a patient's natural death must be "reasonably foreseeable," when the court's ruling made no such reference.
Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan said this provision excludes those who are suffering but may not be at an advanced age or terminally ill.
"You are excluding those who are not at the end of their lives," Mr. Carignan told Ms. Wilson-Raybould. "You're forcing those individuals to perhaps stop feeding themselves, to mutilate themselves or harm themselves to make themselves eligible for medical assistance in dying," he said.
"It is a constitutional right that you are depriving these people of."
Independent Liberal Senator Serge Joyal also believes the bill fails to meet the Supreme Court's standards. "I cannot support it in its present condition, because its constitutionality is at stake," Mr. Joyal said.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould defended her legislation as "responsible," telling senators it is the "best solution for our country right now."
"I am confident that Bill C-14 strikes a reasonable balance among all the competing interests," she said.
"It does not have to mirror exactly the wording from the court to be constitutional."
Newly appointed independent Senator Frances Lankin told the minister, "We think you've got the balance wrong."
A few Conservative senators, however, want the bill to tighten up conscience protections for doctors who refuse to perform the procedure or even refer patients to someone who will, and to add terminal illness to the criteria as recommended by a Senate committee that prestudied the bill.
"I was disappointed that the government did not accept any of our recommendations," Conservative Senator Don Plett told Ms. Wilson-Raybould in a testy exchange.
Dr. Philpott pleaded with the chamber to "find a way as soon as possible to help this legislation be enacted," while later in her testimony acknowledging that is unlikely to happen before next Monday's deadline.
"I would consider that a small miracle," she said.
Independent Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer told Dr. Philpott she has heard from thousands of Canadians who do not support the legislation.
"This is a bill that is eating us up inside and out," she said.
"Listen to Canadians who are pleading with you, that let's get it right."