A Senate committee has recommended key changes to the government's doctor-assisted-dying bill, including advance requests for patients diagnosed with conditions such as dementia while at the same time limiting the procedure to those with terminal illness.
The message from the Red Chamber comes as MPs continue to debate Bill C-14 in the House of Commons, where further changes can be introduced. Amid procedural bickering on all sides, Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc signalled on Tuesday that the government will cut off the discussion in order to pass the legislation by the end of this week.
The bill then goes to the Senate where it must also pass the legislative process – and some senators are warning the Commons that stronger safeguards are needed.
"The report is an indication that senators have some serious reservations about parts of this bill," Conservative Senator Bob Runciman, who chairs the committee, said in a release.
"The House of Commons would be wise to consider this before Bill C-14 is sent to the Senate. Many senators feel very strongly about this issue, and I think that is reflected in the report."
Even if the bill makes it to the Senate by the end of the week, senators are skeptical it will meet the Supreme Court of Canada's June 6 deadline.
"It will be, I think, impossible, to have the bill pass [by] June 6," Conservative Senate Leader Claude Carignan told reporters.
Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan, who sat on the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee, has repeatedly said he's more concerned with getting the bill right than passing it by the deadline.
"I haven't sensed any desire on the part of senators to rag the puck on this or delay it, but they are going to take the time to study it," Mr. Cowan said. "How it will go and how long it will take, I don't know."
Independent Senator Peter Harder, the government's representative in the Senate, recently told The Globe and Mail that he is waiting to see the bill when it arrives in the Red Chamber. The Senate has 87 members and is now split into three factions – Conservative, Liberal and independents – making it difficult to predict how legislation will be received.
The 10 recommendations from the Senate's Conservative-dominated committee also include removing the promise of further studying the issues of mature minors and those whose sole medical condition is mental illness, keeping a reflection period of 15 days as opposed to 10 (as changed in the Commons) and adding greater protections for medical professionals and institutions that refuse to participate.
Not all of the recommendations were adopted unanimously, but the advance requests and terminal-illness amendments were adopted by a majority on the committee, which includes both Conservative and Liberal senators.
Other concerns highlighted by the Senate committee include denying a beneficiary from signing or aiding a person requesting medical assistance in dying, and maintaining a requirement that the nurse or doctor who provides a medical opinion in the case is not involved in a business relationship with those performing the procedure.
There were other recommendations made by a minority of senators, including limiting the ability of nurses to perform the procedure, replacing the definition of "grievous and irremediable" with the language from the Supreme Court case, including a psychiatric assessment of competency, and requiring judicial review.
Conservative Senator Vern White, who was also part of the committee, said he supports advanced directives as well as conscience protections for those who refuse to take part in the procedure.
But he said it's impossible to predict what will happen to the bill once it makes its way to the Senate.
"We have almost 100 people in here, and I don't think any two people agree on this piece of legislation," he said.