Days before Canada’s assisted suicide bill was originally supposed to take effect, lawmakers’ stark disagreements on religious freedom protections and the inclusion of minors could stall the legislation.
The bill, which the nation’s bishops describe as “an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity and a danger to all vulnerable persons,” passed the final reading in the House of Commons this week and was sent to the Senate for final approval.
Members of the House voted 186-137 on Tuesday to pass Bill C-14 on to the Senate in hopes that the legislation could meet its June 6 deadline.
However, delays are expected as many Senators have voiced concerns about the bill and hope to make amendments, which would send the bill back to the House for further approval.
The bill as it currently stands would legalize medically-assisted suicide for mentally competent adults who have a serious and incurable illness and are “suffering intolerably” and whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” even though they may not necessarily have received a terminal diagnosis.
The new legislation was required by a February 2015 Canadian Supreme Court decision. The ruling said that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable suffering to kill themselves, and ordered Parliament to create a legislative response.
Conservative leader of the Senate Claude Carignan told reporters it would be “impossible” to have the bill finalized by the upcoming deadline because of the reservations of many in the Senate.
Part of the controversy surrounding the bill is that while it allows for conscience protections for individual doctors, it does not yet allow conscience protections for medical institutions that would be opposed to the procedure.
Another point of contention is that the bill promises the further study of whether “mature minors,” whose sole illness is a mental illness, would qualify for the procedure.
Conservative Senator Vern White, who was part of the Senate committee reviewing the bill, said he supports the addition of conscience protections and expects a contentious debate in the days ahead.
“We have almost 100 people in here, and I don’t think any two people agree on this piece of legislation,” he told Canadian news source The Globe and Mail.
The day after the bill passed the House, hundreds of people demonstrated against the bill on Parliament Hill in Ottowa by laying down wearing white trash bags, representing the body bags that will result should the legislation pass.
The protest was organized by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Quebec grassroots organization Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia, and featured speakers from the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, the Coalition of Physicians for Social Justice and the Catholic Women’s League, as well as several Senators, reported The Catholic Register in Canada.
“They do not have to follow the (Supreme Court) decision,” Dr. Paul Saba of the Coalition of Physicians told The Catholic Register.
“Otherwise, get rid of Parliament and replace it with the Supreme Court.”
Since the announcement of the bill, the legislation has received strong opposition both from the Catholic Church and from secular groups.
In April, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto told CNA that “the fundamental move towards implementing euthanasia or assisted suicide is itself troubling” and that the bill would threaten the vulnerable, hide killing with euphemisms, and threaten the consciences of those who oppose it.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have continually voiced their concerns and opposition to the bill, and have urged members of Parliament to vote against it.
Together with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Bishops have signed a declaration against euthanasia and assisted suicide, saying that such measures “treat the lives of disadvantaged, ill, disabled, or dying persons as less valuable than the lives of others. Such a message does not respect the equal dignity of our vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
“It is when we are willing to care for one another under the most dire of circumstances and at the cost of great inconvenience that human dignity and society’s fundamental goodness are best expressed and preserved,” the declaration states.
The Archdiocese of Edmonton responded to the bill by launching the Every Life Matters campaign, aims to reach those who are vulnerable to self-harm or suicide by telling the stories of people who have learned to live despite pain and suffering.
Doctors, lawyers, and family members of euthanized in Belgium - where euthanasia has been legal since 2002 - partnered with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and Dunn Media to produce a series of videos begging the Canadian government to reconsider the bill.