Liberals Pass Controversial Medically Assisted Dying Bill, With Help of Bloc Quebecois

Next, senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict or insist on their amendments
March 12, 2021 Updated: March 13, 2021

A revised bill that expands access to medically assisted suicide was passed in the House of Commons on March 11.

In order to force a vote before a March 26 deadline as well as force closure on debate, the Bloc Quebecois joined with the minority Liberal government to help pass the controversial bill.

Bill C-7 will expand access of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to people suffering solely from mental illness, and also relaxes eligibility rules to give access to people who are not close to a natural death.

Most Liberal and Bloc MPs supported the bill, while the Conservatives, New Democrats, and two of three Green MPs voted against it.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling which struck down a provision that allows MAiD only for intolerably suffering individuals whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

The March 11 vote was on a motion laying out the government’s response to major amendments passed by the Senate last month.

Among other things, senators voted to allow advance requests for assisted deaths and to impose an 18-month time limit on the bill’s originally proposed blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

The government motion rejected the advance request amendment but proposed to put a two-year time limit on the mental illness exclusion.

Opening the door to people with mental illness proved too much for some MPs who had supported the bill in its original form.

The Conservatives attempted to amend the motion to eliminate the time limit on the mental illness exclusion on the grounds that it “could be seen as undermining suicide prevention initiatives and normalizing death as a solution to many forms of suffering.”

The revised bill will now return to the Senate next week, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the House or insist on their amendments.

Justice Minister David Lametti said 139 MPs have spoken for nearly 45 hours on the bill since it was introduced over a year ago. He noted that the Conservatives three times rejected government proposals to extend sitting hours to allow more debate specifically on the Senate amendments.

“They don’t want more time. They just want to stop it altogether,” he said.

But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said the use of closure was “quite unprecedented” on a topic this sensitive. He said hundreds of thousands of Canadians have concerns about the bill, particularly about the Senate-triggered change to include people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

“Why would the government limit reasonable questions of concern, particularly when it comes to mental health, and use closure in this way on C-7?” he said.

Disability rights groups and people suffering from mental illness have strongly opposed the bill from the outset.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said earlier on March 11 that his party would be voting against the revised bill on the grounds that unelected senators should not rewrite legislation passed by MPs.

The government has sought and received four extensions to the court-imposed deadline for complying with the ruling. The latest extension expires on March 26.

With files from The Canadian Press