Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who the government appointed to co-chair a special committee study of medically assisted death, says he cannot support the government’s bill to regulate the practice.

“I won’t be supporting Bill C-14 as it currently stands, even with the minor amendments,” Oliphant says.

The joint committee on physician-assisted dying was struck to consider how Parliament should respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Carter case. The court found that a total ban on medical assistance in death was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The committee, co-chaired by Oliphant, made 21 recommendations, particularly that medically assisted death be made available to “individuals with terminal and non-terminal grievous and irremediable medical conditions that cause enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition,” including those suffering from mental illness.

After further consideration, the committee suggested, the practice should be opened to “mature minors.” Individuals would also be able to provide “advance requests” before their illnesses became intolerable.

Government takes narrower approach

The government took a narrower approach in its legislation, not allowing advance requests and limiting access to those whose death was “reasonably foreseeable.”

Oliphant says he has three reasons for not supporting the bill: the Carter decision, the concerns of constituents and his conscience. He believes the legislation does not meet the thresholds of the court’s decision.

The family of Kay Carter and her lawyer have said they believe she would not have been eligible for medical assistance in dying under the Liberal bill and, having consulted with lawyers, Oliphant similarly believes the legislation fails to meet the thresholds of the court’s decision.

He is concerned with the bill’s requirements that an individual be dealing with an “incurable” illness and that the death be “reasonably foreseeable.” After speaking with doctors he wonders, for instance, whether a prognosis of death within three to five years would be considered to be within the reasonably foreseeable future, referring to the case of Patient No. 2 in Manitoba.

Reconfirmation is questioned

Oliphant says some of his constituents have requested the possibility of advance directives, and he also questions a clause in the legislation that requires a reconfirmation before medically assisted death is administered.

The latter, he says, could be cruel for patients who are being treated with morphine, requiring that they be taken off the drug and made to suffer. This would also require medical professionals to judge competence under difficult circumstances.

“The [Supreme Court] gave us the possibility of alleviating intolerable suffering, and the bill does not take sufficient measures in that regard,” Oliphant says.

The Liberal MP for Don Valley West supported the bill at second reading, but said he was waiting to see how the legislation would be amended by the House justice committee.

The committee has made some amendments to the bill but has not substantially altered it.

Informed the prime minister

Oliphant says he told the prime minister of his view and that Justin Trudeau was “completely respectful.”

He believes the bill has enough support to pass in the House of Commons and he says he is not advocating that other MPs follow his lead and vote against it.

Oliphant hopes the Senate might address some of what he considers to be the bill’s shortcomings. “My hope is the Senate really studies as well, thoughtfully, and sends some amendments back,” he says.

He also still hopes to convince the government to refer the bill directly to the Supreme Court after it receives royal assent, thus potentially sparing a suffering individual the trouble of pursuing their own legal challenge.