The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber are pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Senators voted Tuesday to give the federal government 18 months to expand access to medical assistance in dying to people suffering solely from mental illnesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Senate of Canada building and Senate Chamber are pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Senators voted Tuesday to give the federal government 18 months to expand access to medical assistance in dying to people suffering solely from mental illnesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Senators amend assisted dying bill to put 18-month time limit on mental illness exclusion

Canadian Psychiatric Association has denounced the exclusion as discriminatory, stigmatizing

Senators have voted to give the federal government 18 months to expand access to medical assistance in dying to people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

They voted 57-21 Tuesday to amend Bill C-7, which proposes an explicit, blanket prohibition on assisted dying in cases involving only mental illness but would expand access to other intolerably suffering people who are not near the natural end of their lives.

The amendment puts an 18-month time limit on the mental illness exclusion, intended to give the federal government, along with provinces, territories and medical associations, time to come up with appropriate guidelines and safeguards.

Until the exclusion is lifted, senators also agreed to another amendment to clarify that it will not apply to people suffering from neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

Justice Minister David Lametti has said it was not the government’s intention to exclude such disorders. The amendment to make that crystal clear was approved by senators on a voice vote.

The sunset clause on the mental illness exclusion was proposed by Sen. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist who now sits in the Independent Senators Group.

He argued that the exclusion is unconstitutional, violating the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical and mental disability, as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Moreover, Kutcher argued that it stigmatizes people with mental illnesses, suggesting that they don’t have the mental capacity to decide when their suffering has become intolerable and that their suffering is somehow less than that caused by physical illnesses.

“Intolerable suffering is a subjective, personal experience. It cannot be negated or delegitimized by anyone else’s valuation of that suffering,” Kutcher told the Senate.

“Persons who have intolerable suffering from a mental disorder do not have a second-class type of suffering. Their suffering must be taken just as seriously as we take the suffering of those who request MAID (medical assistance in dying) for any other medical condition.”

The Canadian Psychiatric Association has denounced the exclusion as discriminatory, stigmatizing and unconstitutional.

Six senators, including the government’s representative in the Senate, Sen. Marc Gold, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chantal Petitclerc of the Independent Senators Group, abstained on Kutcher’s amendment.

Lametti has argued that the exclusion is necessary because there is no consensus among psychiatrists on whether people suffering solely from mental illnesses should ever be allowed access to assisted dying.

That’s because the trajectory of mental illnesses is often unpredictable, making it difficult to determine if a patient’s condition might improve, he has said. Moreover, Lametti has pointed out that a wish to die is often a symptom of a mental illness.

But Kutcher argued that the same complexities can apply in assessing patients with physical conditions. He noted that the bill would allow assisted dying for people suffering from a combination of mental and physical disorders.

READ MORE: Exclusion of mental illness in assisted dying-bill slammed by psychiatrists

An overwhelming majority of senators supported the amendment, with many saying they’d prefer to see the mental illness exclusion repealed altogether but accepted Kutcher’s sunset clause as a reasonable compromise.

However, Conservative Sen. Denise Batters argued strenuously against the amendment.

“The term sunset clause is just a euphemism for the sunsetting of vulnerable people’s lives,” she told the Senate.

“It sounds so innocuous, a sunset clause,” Batters added.

“But, honourable senators, don’t be fooled. This means that at least some Canadians will have their lives ended before they can access the treatments or options that could very well relieve their suffering and give them years to live.”

Senators rejected Monday a third proposed amendment aimed at forcing the creation of a parliamentary committee within three months to review access to assisted dying for people with neurodegenerative diseases.

Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, who proposed the amendment, wanted the committee, which was to report back within one year, to look particularly at the issue of advanced directives for such people.

That amendment was defeated by a vote of 47-28, with six abstentions.

Senators are to resume debate Wednesday, with more amendments to be proposed.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

assisted dying

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. Black Press file photo
No new COVID-19 cases for Nakusp

Our community has not had a case since January; has only had three in total since pandemic started

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second death reported in Kelowna General Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

A total of seven cases have been identified at the hospital: six patients and one staff

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
B.C. mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Most Read