Ottawa asks for more time on assisted death

Legislators are asking for six more months to respond to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on doctor-assisted death, citing the February Criminal Code change as too soon

The federal government is telling the Supreme Court of Canada it needs more time to respond to the court's landmark ruling on doctor-assisted death, as the court hears Ottawa’s request for a six-month extension.

Robert Frater, counsel for the Attorney General, argues that the federal government needs the extra time to provide a comprehensive response to the judgment.

Frater told the court six-months is not a long time in terms of the democratic process, noting extensive work by Parliament and provincial legislatures cannot reasonably be completed by February.

While legislators have been scrambling, the life insurance sector has been mostly unfazed by the decriminalization of doctor-assisted death.

“I don’t think it will make a difference insofar as the underwriting of the risk,” Ken MacCoy, an advisor with RitePartner Financial Services, told LHP back in February of last year, “because it’s all based on actuaries.”

As it stands, the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting doctor-assisted death will cease to exist next month after they were deemed unconstitutional by the court last winter.

The court recognized the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a physician's help and suspended its decision for one year to allow Parliament and provincial legislatures to respond, should they choose, by bringing in legislation consistent with constitutional limits it set out.

“We do not believe that there will be a significant impact, if any, on the industry,” said Wendy Hope vice president of external relations for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. “We will have to wait and see what the Canadian government comes up with in terms of revised legislation. As always, the industry will work towards complying with any changes.”

Lawyer Joseph Arvay, who represents the appellants, argues an extension would be a further setback for Canadians enduring unbearable suffering.