Government agrees mentally ill should have access to MAID in two years

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    Ottawa: The Trudeau government has agreed with the Senate that Canadians suffering solely from grievous and irremediable mental illnesses should be entitled to receive medical assistance in dying _ but not for another two years.

    The two-year interlude is six months longer than what was proposed by senators.

    It is one of a number of changes to Bill C-7 proposed by the government in response to amendments approved last week by the Senate.

    The government has rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed people who fear being diagnosed with dementia or other competence-eroding conditions to make advance requests for an assisted death.

    It has also rejected one other amendment and modified two others in a motion that is to be debated today in the House of Commons.

    If the Commons approves the government’s response, the bill will go back to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected chamber or dig in their heels.

    Bill C-7 would expand access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives, bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling.

    As originally drafted, the bill would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

    A strong majority of senators argued that the exclusion was unconstitutional, violating the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability, as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    They voted to impose an 18-month time limit on the mental illness exclusion, which the government now wants to extend to two years.

    During that interlude, the government is also proposing to have experts conduct an independent review of the issue and, within one year, recommend the “protocols, guidance and safeguards” that should apply to requests for assisted dying from people with a mental illness.

    In the meantime, senators had wanted to clarify that the exclusion of mental illness does not apply to people with neurocognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. However, the government has rejected that amendment.

    In rejecting advance requests, the government motion argues that the Senate amendment on that issue “goes beyond the scope of the bill” and requires “significant consultation and study,” including a “careful examination of safeguards.”

    It suggests that the issue should be examined during the legally required five-year parliamentary review of the assisted dying law, which was supposed to have begun last June but has yet to materialize.

    The government has agreed, however, to a modified version of a Senate amendment to finally get that review underway within 30 days of Bill C-7 receiving royal assent.

    The government is proposing the creation of a joint Commons-Senate committee to review 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 government has also agreed to a modified version of another Senate amendment to require the collection of race-based data on who is requesting and receiving medical assistance in dying.

    3/8It is proposing to expand that to include data on people with disabilities and to specify that the information be used to determine if there is “the presence of any inequality _ including systemic inequality _ or disadvantage based on race, Indigenous identity, disability or other characteristics.”

    By Joan Bryden
    The Canadian Press