The Trudeau government has agreed with the Senate that Canadians suffering only from serious and incurable mental illnesses should be entitled to medical assistance in dying – but not for two years.
The two-year interlude is six months longer than what was proposed by senators.
The longer wait is one of many changes to Bill C-7 proposed by the government in response to amendments approved by the Senate last week.
The government rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed people who fear being diagnosed with dementia or other skills-eroding conditions to make advance requests for assisted dying.
He also defeated another amendment and amended two others in a motion due to be debated today in the House of Commons.
If the Commons approves the government’s response, the bill will be sent back to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected chamber or sneak behind their heels.
Government offers expert review
Bill C-7 would expand access to assisted dying to people with intolerable suffering that is not nearing the natural end of their life, bringing the law into line with a Superior Court ruling of Quebec in 2019.
In its original version, the bill would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people with only mental illnesses.
A strong majority of senators argued that the exclusion was unconstitutional. They said it violated the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
They voted to impose an 18-month deadline excluding mental illness, which the government now wants to extend to two years.
WATCH | Changes to physician-assisted dying for dementia and mental illness bill generate debate
During this interlude, the government also proposes that experts conduct an independent examination of the matter and recommend, within one year, the “protocols, guidelines and guarantees” that should apply to requests for assistance. to die of people with mental illness.
In the meantime, the senators wanted to clarify that the exclusion of mental illness does not apply to people with neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, the government rejected this amendment.
By rejecting the advance requests, the government motion argues that the Senate amendment on this issue “goes beyond the scope of the bill” and requires “significant consultation and study”, including “careful consideration of the safeguards. “.
He suggests that the issue be considered in the legally required five-year parliamentary review of the assisted dying law, which was due to start last June, but has yet to materialize.
However, the government accepted an amended version of a Senate amendment to finally begin this review within 30 days of Royal Assent of Bill C-7.
Government proposes the creation of a Joint Commons-Senate committee to examine the assisted dying regime, including issues related to mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities. The committee would be required to report back with any recommended changes within one year.
The deadline imposed by the Court looms
The government also accepted an amended version of another Senate amendment to require the collection of race-based data on people seeking and receiving medical assistance in dying.
He suggests expanding this to include data on people with disabilities and clarifying that the information should be used to determine whether there is “the presence of inequality – including systemic inequality – or of well-founded disadvantage. on race, Aboriginal identity, disability or other characteristics. “
This is in response to fierce opposition to Bill C-7 from disability rights advocates who argue that the bill sends the message that life with a disability is a fate worse than death. . They also argued that black, racialized, and Indigenous people with disabilities – already marginalized and facing systemic discrimination in the health care system – may be pressured to end their lives prematurely due to poverty and lack of support services. .
Some critics have also raised concerns about unequal access to assisted dying for marginalized people, rural Canadians and Indigenous peoples in remote communities.
With the Liberals holding only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, the government will need the support of at least one of the major opposition parties to pass its response to the Senate amendments.
Conservatives, who were widely opposed to expanding access to assisted dying in the original bill, and New Democrats, who are reluctant to accept changes proposed by unelected senators, have indicated that they probably would not support the motion.
This leaves the Bloc Québécois as the government’s most likely dance partner. Despite his own contempt for the Senate, which he says has no legitimacy, Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet said senators’ amendments to C-7 “are not without interest and indeed deserve to be” be examined ”.
The government hopes the bill will be passed by both parliamentary chambers by Friday in order to meet the three times extended deadline imposed by the court to bring the law into line with the 2019 ruling.
But as the Conservatives have signaled they may delay debate on the Senate amendments, the government will ask the court on Thursday to give it one more month – until March 26.