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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

Eric Rajah, co-founder of A Better World. (Photo Submitted)
Two Lacombe residents recieve award from Governor General for chairty work

Eric Rajah and Brian Leavitt co-founded A Better World, a charity which started in Lacombe in 1990

Kjeryn Dakin, owner of Bukz, Bukwildz and Doe(s) Pizza on Lakeshore Drive, has been nominated for the Women Entrepreneur of Distinction award by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake business woman nominated for provincial and national award

Kjeryn Dakin is nominated for two female entrepreneur awards on a provincial and national scale

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside Red Deer courthouse for slain Ponoka man

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Most Read