Facing a looming court-imposed deadline, the federal government will reintroduce legislation Monday to amend Canada’s law on medical assistance in dying.
The government has until Dec. 18 to amend the law to comply with a Quebec court ruling last fall, which found it was unconstitutional to allow only those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” to be able to get medical help to end their suffering.
Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill in response to that ruling last February but it didn’t get beyond the initial stage of the legislative process before the House of Commons adjourned in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That bill died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month.
Lametti has now given notice that a new bill — presumably identical to the previous one — will be introduced on Monday.
His office has said Lametti is determined to meet the Dec. 18 deadline, which has already been extended twice by the court. That leaves just two months to get the bill, which is bound to be controversial, through both the Commons and the Senate.
The previous bill scrapped reasonably foreseeable death as a requirement for an assisted death. Nevertheless, it retained the concept in setting out easier eligibility rules for those who are near death and more stringent rules for those who aren’t.
New hurdles for those not near death
For those deemed to be near death, the government is proposing to drop the requirement that a person must wait 10 days after being approved for an assisted death before receiving the procedure. It would also reduce the number of witnesses required to one from two.
As well, it proposes to drop the requirement that a person must be able to give consent a second time immediately prior to receiving the procedure.
People not near death would face higher hurdles.
Such people would face a minimum 90-day period for assessments of their requests for an assisted death. One of the two medical practitioners who assesses a request would have to have expertise in the person’s particular medical condition. And the person would have to be able to give final consent immediately prior to the assisted death.
The bill also explicitly prohibited assisted dying in cases where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.
Some legal experts and advocates for medically assisted dying feared the bill would actually make it harder than the existing law for some people to receive the procedure, or even take away their access to it entirely.