Assisted dying legislation reintroduced today as court deadline looms

The Liberal government has reintroduced legislation today to change Canada’s medical assistance in dying legislation legislation in time to meet a court-ordered Dec. 18 deadline to revise the law. 

A Quebec court ruling last year found that one of the provisions of the initial assisted dying legislation — that a patient can only get medical help in dying if their natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” — was unconstitutional. 

That provision in the law was replaced with a two-track approach, Justice Minister David Lametti said — one for people whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable and another for those whose deaths are not.

Lametti said that existing safeguards will remain in place, or will be eased for people whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable, and new safeguards will be introduced for people whose deaths are not foreseeable.

“The Government of Canada remains committed to making the necessary changes to the federal MAID [medical assistance in dying] legislation,” Lametti said in a statement. “This is why we have reintroduced these important proposed amendments, which aim to reduce suffering, while also supporting individual autonomy and freedom of choice.”

The amended legislation requires that the person requesting medical assistance in dying is fully informed and has given “serious consideration to reasonable and available treatment options,” a government statement said. 

The legislative changes also introduce a waiver of final consent that exempts a person receiving a medically assisted death from giving final consent prior to the procedure being administered.

That waiver will be available for people whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable, those who have been assessed and approved for a medically assisted death or those who are at risk of losing decision-making capacity before their chosen date to die.

Watch: Lametti on getting the government’s medical assistance in dying bill passed by December 18:

Justice Minister David Lametti wants opposition help and cooperation to get the government’s medical assistance in dying bill passed by the court-imposed deadline of December 18. 1:08

Lametti told reporters that no one should be forced to choose to die before they have to because they’re worried about being left unable to take advantage of medically assisted death due to a loss of faculties.

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. The changes to the law also would reduce the number of witnesses required to one from two.

Patients without reasonably foreseeable deaths 

The new safeguards designed to protect patients whose deaths are not reasonably foreseeable include a requirement that two independent doctors or nurse practitioners provide an assessment confirming the patient is eligible. One of those professionals must have expertise in the condition causing the patient’s suffering.

The professionals are also required to discuss with the patient all available means to relieve their suffering and must confirm that the patient has seriously considered alternative treatments.

These assessments must take a minimum of 90 days, unless a loss of mental capacity is fast approaching. 

The person must also be provided with information regarding treatment, mental health, disability support services and palliative care and be given the opportunity to withdraw their request. 

The new legislation also rules out access to a medically assisted death for people who are suffering solely from a mental illness. 

Lametti first introduced a bill containing these changes 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 then died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month.

Lametti’s office told the Canadian Press that the minister 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.

According to the federal government, some 13,000 Canadians have ended their lives with a medically assisted death since June 2016.

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