Legislation to expand access to medically assisted death clears House, moves to Senate

A contentious bill that would expand access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) has passed in the House of Commons and will now head to the Senate as a court-imposed deadline looms on Dec. 18.

MPs voted 212 to 107 in favour of the legislation. Several Conservative MPs supported it, while a handful of Liberal MPs voted against it or abstained.

The government introduced C-7 in February in response to a September 2019 Superior Court of Quebec ruling which found that the law’s precondition for obtaining a physician-assisted death — that the individual seeking it must face a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death — was unconstitutional.

The bill proposes to remove that requirement. It also disqualifies those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness from obtaining an assisted death.

Justice Minister David Lametti said that while he is pleased the bill passed, he’s disappointed that Conservatives delayed its passage and limited the time the Senate has to consider it.

“I’m asking senators to really put their shoulders to the wheel in good faith and let’s get this across the finish line,” he said.

WATCH / Justice minister fears C-7 won’t pass Senate quickly

Justice Minister David Lametti spoke with reporters after the assisted death bill passed the Commons on Thursday. 2:02

The Conservatives had worked to delay passage of the bill, arguing the government was trying rush through life-and-death legislation that fails to offer safeguards to protect the vulnerable.

Senate committee reports on pre-study

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is set to rise for the holiday break next week. It’s not clear if the bill will pass in time to meet the court deadline before the break.

Lametti admitted he is worried about the tight timeframe.

“It is difficult, I understand, but definitely not impossible,” he said.

The House of Commons rises this week for the break, but Lametti said it would be required to return if the Senate were to propose amendments to the bill.

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters said the Senate must not be “pressured” into passing C-7.

She said the government should have appealed the Quebec court ruling. She said the Dec. 18 deadline was artificially imposed and criticized the government for proroguing Parliament for six weeks instead of prioritizing the important piece of legislation.

The government already has received two extensions from the court, and Batters said it could request a third.

“If Bill C-7 does not pass, and I hope it doesn’t, the Liberals will have only themselves to blame,” she said.

Because of the compressed timeline, the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee conducted a pre-study of C-7 that heard from 81 witnesses, including ministers, regulatory authorities, advocacy groups, legal and medical practitioners and other stakeholders. It also received 86 written submissions.

That committee released a report today outlining a summary of opinions it heard from witnesses, including concerns about Charter of Rights compliance, safeguards to protect the vulnerable and access to proper health care and support services.

The report says the committee heard from major national disability organizations which argued that removing “reasonably foreseeable natural death” would “single out disability” in violation of Charter-entrenched equality rights. They said a constitutional challenge likely would be launched if the bill passes.

MPs also heard similar concerns from groups representing Canadians with disabilities.

A July report from Health Canada on medical assistance in dying in Canada showed that nearly 14,000 Canadians had received MAID since 2016. In 2019, MAID accounted for 2 per cent of deaths in Canada.

A planned parliamentary review of the regime was delayed due to COVID-19, but is expected to begin next year.

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