EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger

EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger

The Supreme Court decided Canada’s laws on physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia need changing, and now it’s time for Parliament to weigh in – but will our parliamentarians have the time they need?

I was in the Supreme Court yesterday (January 11, 2016), when the federal government made its pitch to keep the old laws in effect for an extra six months.

These laws, which have long made assisted suicide illegal, need to be re-written if they are to comply with the Court’s ruling (announced in February 2015 in the Carter case) that in some circumstances people should be able to have assisted suicide.

The Court had originally given the government one year before its ruling would come into effect, and now the government is asking for additional time to consider the ruling and decide how to respond.

The lawyer for the federal government said the issue is like no other – literally a matter of life and death – and that the issue is a complex one involving two levels of government.

The lawyer for those seeking assisted suicide is opposed to the extension, arguing that much of the response to the decision could come from the provincial governments (the example being Quebec which has passed its own laws regulating euthanasia), and the federal government would not need an extension to accommodate the work of the provinces.  He also argued some individuals are waiting for assisted suicide to be legalized, and an extension would further delay their access to assisted suicide.

The justices were quite engaged with the arguments on both sides. Should they give an extension? If they do, should they exempt Quebec since it has passed legislation to provide euthanasia? Do they also exempt any other Canadian who meets the Supreme Court’s new criteria for allowing assisted suicide from the criminal prohibition, perhaps with the consent of a judge?

It is a difficult issue that impacts individuals, families, communities and indeed all of society. It compels us to answer the question of what level and manner of care we owe someone who is suffering and near the end of life.

Most of us have faced this within our families, churches and communities, or we will at some point. What pastor has not been called upon to walk with families with a loved one in the shadow of death?

This is not simply a matter of individual rights, but an issue that goes straight to the heart of being a society – how we treat vulnerable people in need of care and support, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The issue deserves a full hearing, and Parliament is the proper place for an interdisciplinary review of the issue and the best place to assess laws and policies. Courts look at things from a legal perspective; Parliament affords a broader analysis.

We are awaiting the release of the report of the federal panel that was established by the previous government – it is complete, but needs to be translated. A provincial/territorial advisory panel has also released its report. With these reports in, now it is Parliament’s turn. Parliament has established a committee and it needs time to do its work.

The Supreme Court may grant an extension, or it may hold Parliament to the February 6 deadline. It was appropriate for the federal government to ask the Supreme Court for more time – and the EFC had encouraged them to do so.

Both the previous and current federal governments could have moved more quickly to meet the one-year deadline, but it was an election year.

All the reasons that convinced the Supreme Court to give Parliament one year in the first place remain good reasons to given an extension. Parliament needs more time to consider its response to the changes required from the Supreme Court’s decision.

As one justice reminded the lawyer for the federal government, even if the Supreme Court decides not to grant an extension, the government can still use the “override” (the Notwithstanding Clause) which gives the government the power to suspend the effect of court decisions.

However it is achieved, Parliament needs to take the time to carefully consider the Court’s decision on assisted suicide and its ramifications.  How we proceed as a society on this issue impacts us all. It is not a conversation that should be avoided or rushed.

Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.






One comment on “More time to decide on assisted suicide laws?

  • I have “scan read” through your articles, news and views on euthanasia. My wife belongs to a Baptist Church in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. I am Catholic. Yesterday she showed me a pamphlet from you on which asks Christians to oppose euthanasia. This liberal Govt is about to legalize it.
    The Catholic Church stands with you in its opposition. I would respectfully suggest that your organisation would become stronger and bigger when you collaborate with other same thinking organisations. For euthanasia I suggest the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition run by Alex Schadenberg. What’s stopping you? Unity is strength!

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