Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that if re-elected, he would “relax” the federal assisted dying laws, created by his own government, within six months.
An elderly woman who said she suffered from multiple sclerosis, wears adult diapers, has bed sores, and has had rheumatoid arthritis since childhood asked the six federal party leaders at the French-language debate if they would respect a recent Quebec court decision that ruled the current federal criteria for assisted death is too restrictive.
“We need to be there as a government to help you navigate these difficult questions,” Trudeau said. “Yes, we are going to relax the law in the next six months.”
He said that the assisted dying legislation passed by his government was new territory and required balancing to protect the most vulnerable and to respect peoples’ rights and peoples’ individual choices.
“When we proposed this law … the courts and the society, everyone was going to evolve and we will continue to evolve with them.”
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In September, a Quebec judge ruled that both the provincial and federal rules around who could qualify for an assisted death were too onerous and therefore discriminatory — specifically the requirements under the Criminal Code that the person’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable.”
Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin suspended her ruling for 6 months to allow lawmakers to respond to it. She allowed the two plaintiffs in the case, however, to move ahead with seeking medical assistance in dying.
The other party leaders offered varied responses to the woman’s question.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also pledged to change the legislation, but did not specify how. She said when she first studied the law, which came into effect in 2016, she favoured rules that allowed people to “choose the time to die with dignity” and that she would “do the same thing in the next Parliament.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responded by saying, “My answer is yes.”
He continued, “Clearly, with the Quebec court decision, the options are too limited and dignity is being denied.” He said an NDP government would “give you more autonomy, more power to die with dignity.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also echoed this sentiment, saying that he congratulated everyone who took the issue to court.
“We can work on improving these laws. But yes, the ruling should be respected,” he said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party have been opposed to the law since it was introduced.
At the debate, Scheer said that the issue is one that requires efforts to “protect vulnerable people.”
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier said to the woman that she has the support of his party. And that while he initially supported the law, he said he now also believed it should be “overhauled.”
He stated that his party upholds the values of “individual responsibility” and that changes to the law would help people “make this difficult choice with their loved ones by their side.”