Doherty urges caution on medically-assisted dying bill

Calling it a difficult issue, Cariboo Prince George MP Todd Doherty says a more fulsome debate is in order on expanding medical assistance in dying to cover Canadians who are not approaching the natural end of their lives.

The federal Liberals are hoping to have Bill C-7 passed by Friday to meet a thrice-extended court-imposed deadline for bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling.

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But with the Conservatives signaling that they may drag out debate on recently-introduced amendments, the government will ask the court on Thursday to give it one more month - until March 26, according to The Canadian Press.

"I think my concern remains the same as it was back when it was C-14 in my first term, and now with C-7, is that a piece of legislation such as this is being rushed through without proper consultation and without proper communication and debate," Doherty said Tuesday from Ottawa.

The Conservatives largely opposed expanding access to assisted dying in the original bill.

"I understand all sides of the argument, I truly do...and I think we would be doing a disservice to many, many Canadians if we just allowed this to pass without fulsome review and debate," Doherty said.

Among the amendments proposed by the Senate is to provide assistance in dying to Canadians suffering solely from grievous and irremediable mental illnesses.

As originally drafted, the bill would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

A strong majority of senators argued that the exclusion was unconstitutional, violating the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability, as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They voted to impose an 18-month time limit on the mental illness exclusion, which the government now wants to extend to two years.

During that interlude, the government is also proposing to have experts conduct an independent review of the issue and, within one year, recommend the "protocols, guidance and safeguards" that should apply to requests for assisted dying from people with a mental illness.

"What I feel is that people with a mental illness problem, they need assistance to live and thrive, not hasten death," Doherty said. "There are dark days, there are no two ways about it, but I don't think that there is anyone there that can determine whether a mental illness represents an advanced state of decline in capabilities that cannot be reversed."

Doherty was named special advisor to the leader on mental health and wellness when Erin O'Toole became Conservative leader.

- with files from The Canadian Press

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