COLUMN: Why I voted against the assisted dying bill

In March I wrote in this column about the ongoing debates in parliament around medical aid in dying.

Richard Cannings

In March I wrote about the ongoing debates in parliament around medical aid in dying, brought on by the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the Carter case. We have since debated the Liberal government’s legislative response to that case: Bill C-14. This bill is certainly one of the most important pieces of legislation ever considered in Ottawa, so all MPs wrestled with its many issues as it came to free votes in the house last week. With that in mind, I wanted to let you know the rationale for how I cast my vote.

I am deeply concerned that this legislation as it stands will create more problems than it fixes. Kay Carter, the woman who brought this case to the Supreme Court, did not have a terminal illness, yet the court still found she had the right to medical assistance in dying. Bill C-14, on the other hand, specifically restricts this service to those with terminal conditions.

Many experts, including the Canadian Bar Association, thus feel that this bill does not properly respond to the Supreme Court decision and will be found unconstitutional if challenged. Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who co-chaired the special committee study of medically assisted death earlier this year, has expressed deep disappointment in the bill his own government had created. The Alberta Court of Appeal also ruled on May 18 that Bill C-14 does not comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Carter case.

During the justice committee hearings on this bill, my NDP colleague Murray Rankin made many constructive suggestions regarding this bill but most were rejected, including measures that would help provide every Canadians with better end-of-life and palliative care.

I believe that as elected officials, it is important that we pass laws compliant with the constitution, the Charter of Rights and in this case, the decisions of the Supreme Court. When we ignore credible and constant warnings that a bill does not meet those standards, we are forcing those who already fought through the courts to return to those same courts to continue the battle for justice.

That is something the former government did regularly and is simply not right. Medical assistance in dying is an issue of deep conscience and great importance, which is why we must not rush through a flawed bill. We must get it right the first time. Although there was a court-imposed deadline of June 6, people will still be able to access physician-assisted dying until there is legislation in place.

With that in mind, I could not support Bill C-14 as it was written. I cannot ignore those warnings and put those who are already suffering through more suffering. As always, I invite you to share your views with me on this important issue.

Dick Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

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