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

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Almost two in three Canadians surveyed recently said they trust COVID-19 vaccines to be both safe and effective. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Northern Health to open 30 COVID vaccine clinics for oldest residents, Indigenous seniors

Health authority says it plans to vaccinate nearly 15,000 people in Phase Two

(899 Vanderhoof Air Cadets/Facebook)
Vanderhoof Air Cadets to hold fundraising raffle this summer

Winners will be announced in May this year

Artemis Gold is taking a different approach with the Blackwater Project. The company will be working in three phases. The average gold production at Blackwater will be 248,000 ounces in Phase 1, 420,000 ounces in Phase 2 and 316,000 ounces in Phase 3. (Submitted image)
Artemis Gold provides update on Blackwater Gold Project

Ore grade control drilling, metallurgical test work and more being conducted

NDIT logo.
NDIT grants over $160K to Vanderhoof for street lighting project on Burrard

Total cost of the project is approximately $380,000

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 in Ottawa. Doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID vaccines for seniors in B.C.: Here’s how to sign up

Seniors 90+, Indigenous seniors 65+ and Indigenous Elders can book starting March 8

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Most Read