Fletcher to take suicide bill to Senate

Issue not on Parliament's agenda

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OTTAWA -- Physician-assisted suicide will be a reality in Canada no matter what the federal government wants, Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher said Monday.

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This article was published 16/09/2014 (2889 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Physician-assisted suicide will be a reality in Canada no matter what the federal government wants, Manitoba Conservative MP Steven Fletcher said Monday.

He called it “inevitable.”

“The momentum is unstoppable. The only question is how long will it take?”

Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press files Conservative MP Steven Fletcher has introduced two private member's bills on assisted suicide.

Fletcher was reacting to comments from Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who said in an interview this week with CBC that assisted suicide is not her priority.

“The starting point for me is we still don’t have the best elderly care and palliative care yet,” said Ambrose. “I want to see us strive to be the best in the world for palliative care before we lead to this discussion.”

She pointed to a 2010 debate on an ultimately defeated Bloc Québécois bill for assisted suicide as a sign Parliament doesn’t want to go down that road at this time, and suggested the issue isn’t on Parliament’s agenda.

‘The momentum is unstoppable. The only question is how long will it take’

“Right now, there is no debate in the House of Commons because there is no legislation put forward in the House of Commons,” she said.

Ambrose didn’t mention that there are two assisted-suicide bills Parliament could deal with if there were the political will to do so.

“There is legislation,” said Fletcher. “It’s just not in the order of precedence.”

Fletcher introduced both bills in March. One sets up the conditions under which assisted suicide can take place, and the second establishes a mechanism with which to monitor that new law. From a backbencher, the bills are unlikely to make it to the floor for debate unless an MP whose bills are higher in the queue trades with Fletcher. He’s instead taking his bills across the way to the Senate.

He says he has spoken with many senators and believes there is enough support to pass the bills within the Senate. If that happened, the bills would go back to the House of Commons at the top of the pile.

Fletcher said the subject could also land in Parliament via an emergency debate, much like the one on Canada’s involvement in military action in Iraq, called for by the Liberals Monday.

“It would give some voice to Parliament before the Supreme Court rules,” said Fletcher.

Last January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on the issue of assisted suicide from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The court will hear the case next month.

The Quebec government passed a law legalizing physician-assisted suicide, although it has yet to be enacted. That bill sets up a battle with the federal government because the Criminal Code still penalizes someone who helps someone else die.

The Manitoba government in 2013 said it was leaving the matter up to Ottawa after a Winnipeg woman went public with her plan to have an assisted death. Susan Griffiths flew to Switzerland to die in April 2013 after she was diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder.

Fletcher said the 2010 debate Ambrose and other cabinet ministers constantly point to as proof Parliament doesn’t support assisted suicide is irrelevant because that bill was flawed.

A Probe Research Poll last spring found nearly two out of three Manitobans support some form of assisted suicide, numbers that mirror the support for assisted suicide in a national poll released in 2013.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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