Following the Supreme Court’s Carter decision throwing out Canada’s prohibition on assisted-suicide, the Conservative government established an External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada. Just ten days after being sworn in, the Liberal government ordered a new mandate for the panel, one day before it was scheduled to report.

On Nov. 14, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, sent a letter to the panel members – Dr. Harvey Chochinov and professors Catherine Frazee and Benoit Pelletier – extending the deadline to report to Dec. 15 and modifying its terms. While maintaining the committee’s mandate to share its extensive research into euthanasia and assisted-suicide with the government, it would no longer present a legislative proposal based on that research.

In the letter, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould said, “rather than providing legislative options as per your original mandate, we would ask that instead you prepare a report summarizing the results and key findings of your consultations.” The two ministers claimed the new mandate would allow the committee to finish its work “in time to inform the next stages of working leading to the Government’s response” to the Carter decision.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said considering the time the committee has already invested in their research and consultations with stakeholders, “the EPC finds this decision to be short-sighted and motivated by partisan politics.”

Shadenberg noted that Chochinov is a palliative care expert and Frazee a former director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education, two well-qualified experts. He said in a statement that the Liberal government would not be bound by the committee’s recommendations so “it is wrong for them not to (at least) consider the recommendations of this excellent panel.”

The EPC is calling for invocation of the notwithstanding clause to override the Carter decision for five years in order to enact a constitutional amendment outlawing assisted-suicide.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he expects the Liberal government to either “pass a very liberal and permissive euthanasia law or pass the buck to the provinces by not bringing forward any legislation and therefore creating a legal environment where assisted-suicide is permitted but not legal leaving it to individual provinces to regulate, just as Ottawa did with abortion after 1991 when the Mulroney abortion bill was defeated.