On Friday, Bill C-14 received Royal Assent and became law in Canada. The bill was the government's response to the Carter ruling that struck down Canada's prohibition on medical assistance in dying.
While the bill provides important safeguards to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and family members who assist a suffering Canadian to die with dignity, the bill's eligibility criteria will limit access to those whose "natural death is reasonably foreseeable."
Senators, arguing that this restriction was neither compassionate nor constitutional, had removed the phrase in an amendment. However, the Liberal Government used their majority in the House of Commons to reintroduce it and a majority of Senators then agreed to maintain the restriction.
The final law does include Senate amendments that restrict family members from helping if they were a beneficiary of the person requesting an assisted death and to force doctors to inform patients of all palliative care options before providing an assisted death.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association:
The sky did not fall in the two weeks that Canada had no law criminalizing medical assistance in dying. Instead, people in suffering were able to start frank conversations with their medical team about their end of life options.
While this new law should help to reassure the overly conservative parts of the medical community, it remains problematic and will undoubtedly be challenged in court very soon. The eligibility criteria are vague and arbitrary and the amendments Parliament did accept could make it harder for people to be with a dying family member. Further issues of access, particularly in publicly-funded religious hospitals, remain.
The government has promised further consultations on expanding access to medical assistance in dying and the secular and compassionate majority must hold them to that.