OTTAWA – Ontario and British Columbia appear prepared for the federal government to request more time to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision on doctor-assisted death.
The new Liberal government has not said it will need an extension to address the court’s ruling, but Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has publicly acknowledged this is a possibility.
B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake says his province would be open to working with the federal Liberals over an extended period to ensure they give the matter the thought it deserves.
“I think that it is a very short time frame without an extension,” Lake said in an interview. “It is the federal government’s decision to make, but I think certainly … a framework needs to be worked out with a lot of thoughtfulness, so I think the more time to be able to do that, the better.
“We would certainly be amenable to working with the federal government over a longer time period.”
Last February, the Supreme Court recognized the right of clearly consenting adults who endure intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a physician’s help.
It also gave Parliament a year to craft a set of laws to govern assisted suicide, though former justice minister Peter MacKay indicated in June the government — Conservative or otherwise — would likely need more time.
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said his province would understand if the federal government seeks an extension.
“I think that, given the electoral process and the change in government as well, I think that Ontario would be very understanding if the federal government were to ask for an extension,” Hoskins said. “It’s really up to them to be sure that they can implement any changes required prior to the deadline.”
Ontario is leading a provincial and territorial advisory group on the future of physician-assisted death in Canada.
“They’re going to be reporting shortly,” Hoskins said. “That’s important and helpful information to the feds, but it speaks to the need for … especially on this issue, close collaboration.
“If the federal government asks for an extension and are granted that extension, obviously we will work within those parameters.”
Discussions are also underway at the federal level.
A three-member panel appointed by the previous government has conducted research tours in Europe and Portland, Ore.
The panel is lead by psychiatry professor Harvey Max Chochinov, the Canada research chair in palliative care at the University of Manitoba.
Chochinov’s co-panellists are University of Ottawa law professor Benoit Pelletier, a former Quebec cabinet minister and a constitutional expert, and Catherine Frazee, former co-director of Ryerson University’s institute for disability research and education.
Both Chochinov and Frazee argued against doctor-assisted dying before the Supreme Court, but the chairman maintains the panel is committed to carrying out its mandate in a careful and independent fashion.
The group will eventually present its findings to the ministers of justice and health, although the election delayed the release of its work.
The advocacy group Dying with Dignity Canada has argued the panel should be disbanded.
It is also urging the Liberal government to rule out asking the high court for more time to implement its response to the ruling.
The group argues that patients across the country are living in a “cruel limbo” as they grapple with suffering and wait for their rights to be recognized.