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

An eagle sits in trees overlooking 1001 Steps in South Surrey, January 2021. The City of Surrey has received international recognition as a ‘tree city’ but an environmental group calls it an ‘empty accolade.’ (Tracy Holmes photo)
Environment organization calls Surrey’s ‘tree city’ designation ‘empty accolade’

Committee chair Allison Patton says international recognition is encouraging and sets a trend

This map illustrates the number of active COVID-19 cases in Greater Vancouver from Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, 2021. (BC Centre for Disease Control image)
Delta’s COVID-19 numbers continue to climb

Total number of cases in Fraser Health increased by 206 from Feb. 21-27

Live Well Exercise Clinic CEO Sara Hodson and Trevor Linden’s Club 16 partner Carl Ulmer are pushing for gym memberships and services to become tax deductible. (Contributed photo)
Semiahmoo Peninsula fitness pros leading charge on tax-deductible gym memberships

Live Well Exercise Clinic CEO Sara Hodson pitched idea to deputy prime minister

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service hires first three inspectors as ‘next layer of leadership’

Three men have more than 80 years of combined experience

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

The Nanaimo bar display at the Nanaimo Museum. (City of Nanaimo Instagram)
City of Nanaimo points to correct recipe after New York Times botches batch of bars

City addresses ‘controversy’ around dessert square’s layers

A man holds a picture of Chantel Moore during a healing gathering at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on June 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. First Nation demands transparency in probe into second fatal RCMP shooting

‘Police have killed more Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members than COVID’

Hope’s station house, moved from its original location along the railroad to 111 Old Hope Princeton Way. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)
Citizens file B.C. Ombudsperson complaint against Hope Council in Station House fracas

Demolition contract has been awarded, completed by April 30

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled Feb. 26 that the estate of deceased Sooke man and Hells Angels prospect Michael Widner is to be divided between his wife and his secret spouse. (Black Press Media file photo)
Estate of dead B.C. Hells Angels prospect to be divided between wife, secret spouse

Michael Widner’s 2017 death left a number of unanswered questions

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

The centre and left lanes just west of the Brunette Exit were blocked westbound on the Trans Canada Highway the morning of Friday, March, 5, 2021. (Drive BC)
UPDATE: Vehicle incident westbound Highway 1 in Coquitlam cleared

Earlier the centre and left lanes were blocked in the area

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

Most Read