Senate Passes Amended Bill on Medical Assistance in Dying

February 17, 2021 Updated: February 18, 2021

The Senate wrapped up debates on the bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying (MAiD) with a vote, sending it back to the House of Commons for a final review later this week.

On Wednesday, senators voted 66-19, with 3 abstentions, passing Bill C-7, which would expand access to medical assistance in dying to individuals experiencing intolerable suffering and are not close to a foreseeable natural death.

Bill C-7 intends to bring the federal law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that declared the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” to MAiD eligibility unconstitutional.

Senators approved five amendments to the bill, two of which have expanded access to medical assisted dying even further than the government had first proposed.

One amendment would impose an 18-month time limit on the legislation’s proposed ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. Another would allow people who suffer from dementia or other competence-eroding illnesses to make advanced requests for assisted dying.

Final Debate Over Amendments

Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Senate Donald Neil Plett said the legislation could be “normalizing suicide.”

“We are creating a situation where there is no longer any viable argument to persuade someone who is intent on dying by suicide in any stage in their life,” Plett said. “Not to do so by expanding access to a selected group, who are not approaching end of life, for whom there may be treatment options available, and by preemptively reducing the safeguards before we have had data to justify it, I fear we are normalizing suicide.

Plett said that a radical expansion of medical assisted dying should best be addressed by a five-year parliamentary review, which is not in place.

“I find it very troubling that all three government representatives and the sponsors of this bill jointly abstained on the most radical expansion of the amendment proposed. And yet on any proposal to enhance or restore safeguards, they were vehemently opposed,” he said.

The revised bill will now be sent to the Commons, which is left with just over a week to decide whether to accept or reject the amendments before the court-imposed deadline on Feb. 26.

If some or parts of the amendments were rejected, senators will have to decide whether to adopt or strike down the bill.