With a crucial vote on Canada's new euthanasia legislation potentially delayed as the countdown to a court-imposed deadline approaches, uncertainty and disagreement over the proposed law reigns.
The big vote in the House of Commons was slated for Thursday, but an altercation involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a female legislator that devolved into a screaming match on the floor of the legislature Wednesday evening means that the assisted suicide bill is in limbo as politicians debate the elbowing incident first.
There is still a chance the dying bill will stand for its final vote Thursday night, but it might also be days away.
Right-to-die advocates, with the backing of the left-wing New Democratic Party and even some members of the governing Liberals, have chastised the bill for being overly restrictive and are calling for it to be scrapped altogether. Their side also received an endorsement from an Alberta court this week in a decision that called the legislation unconstitutional.
The opposition Conservatives, meanwhile, argue some elements of the bill go too far — with some senior members of that party arguing that Canada should just refuse to adopt any law at all.
Bill C-14 is the legislation tabled by the Liberals in the House of Commons, based on a decision passed down by the Supreme Court last year, and informed by consultations conducted by a Parliamentary committee on the matter.
The top court ruled that doctors should be allowed to facilitate a patient's death when he or she is a "competent adult" with an irremediable medical condition or disabilities that cause enduring suffering, and whose death is already "reasonably foreseeable."
'The [Supreme Court] gave us the possibility of alleviating intolerable suffering, and the bill does not take sufficient measures in that regard.'
But the Liberal legislation added further conditions on top of those identified by the Supreme Court. Critics have decried the bill for excluding people with mental illnesses and "mature minors" — namely, 16 and 17 year olds — and creating the qualification that the person must be dying.
The Alberta Court of Appeal agrees. The court ruled in a decision on Tuesday regarding a 58-year-old woman referred to as E.F. that the government must provide access to physician-assisted death to those facing intolerable and incurable suffering, regardless of whether the illness or disability will lead to their death. The woman in the case was seeking a court-granted exemption to have a doctor help her end her life before the new law comes into effect, because she suffers extreme pain related to a psychological condition.
"The cruelty in the situation is there regardless of whether the illness causing the suffering may be classified as terminal," the court wrote in its decision.
The court's ruling is a clear rebuke of the government's approach in C-14.
"With this ruling, it's become perfectly clear that Bill C-14 must not be passed in its current form. To do so would force desperately ill patients like E.F. to slog through the court system in order to access what is ultimately their right to die in peace and with dignity," said Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, in a press release on Tuesday.
But Canada's justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was unfazed.
"We fundamentally believe and are unwavering on that belief that this is the appropriate regime for Canada right now," Wilson-Raybould told reporters on Wednesday.
Despite the growing discontentedness in the bill, it has failed to see substantial changes. A committee in the House of Commons introduced a handful of minor amendments, which tinker with the bill but leave it largely as-is.
A number of MPs, including Liberal MPs, have said they will vote against it regardless. In this case, individual MPs — but not cabinet ministers — will be able to vote however they wish.
'We fundamentally believe and are unwavering on that belief that this is the appropriate regime for Canada right now.'
"I won't be supporting Bill C-14 as it currently stands, even with the minor amendments," Rob Oliphant, a Liberal member of parliament for a Toronto district who served as co-chair for the Senate committee, told the CBC. "The [Supreme Court] gave us the possibility of alleviating intolerable suffering, and the bill does not take sufficient measures in that regard."
For opposition Conservative MP, and finance critic, Lisa Raitt — who is also considered a front-runner in her party's leadership race — it would be better if there was no new legislation brought in at all.
"Not having legislation doesn't put on hold a person's ability to have a physician-assisted death in the meantime. You would still have that right," Raitt told VICE News. "I do believe that the provinces and medical associations can figure this out in a short time frame while we get the legislation right."
The bill is slated to face its final vote in the House of Commons on Thursday night. From there, it will head to the Senate, which has already put forward in a report 21 suggestions for ways the bill could be changed, including expanding it to include access for those with dementia and other degenerative illnesses, something civil liberties groups have been calling for.
Those Senate report recommendations likely will not be included by the House, which means that, should the Senate try to insert any of the changes itself, the bill will go back to the House of Commons for approval — a process that could have dashed any hopes of getting the bill passed by June 6, even if the elbow debacle didn't happen.