Bill C-7: Historic collaboration in new medical assistance in dying law
The Government reviewed amendments proposed by the Senate and built on them to end up with the best version of the new law.
In September 2019, the Superior Court of Québec struck down as unconstitutional the requirement that death must be reasonably foreseeable in order for someone to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. In response, the Government introduced Bill C-7, which proposed to expand eligibility to medical assistance in dying while also reinforcing safeguards to access. The legislation built on the original law, adopted in the spring of 2016 following intense debate in both the Senate and the House of Commons.
The Senate’s Role
Under the leadership of sponsor Senator Chantal Petitclerc, the Senate undertook a comprehensive study, which began even as the bill was still before the House of Commons. In recognition of the high level of interest in the legislation, the Senate agreed to structure the final round of debate by theme, eventually adopting five proposed amendments. One amendment, proposed by Senator Stan Kutcher, introduced an 18-month time limit on the exclusion of access to medical assistance in dying for those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness. Another amendment, proposed by Senator Mobina Jaffer, required the federal government to collect race-based data on those who request and receive medical assistance in dying.
The original medical assistance in dying law, Bill C-14, called on Parliament to conduct a review at the five-year mark. This deadline was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Parliament’s focus on emergency legislation to help Canadians through it. Senators Scott Tannas and Gwen Boniface proposed an amendment to initiate the review process.
The Government reviewed the Senate amendments and built on them to end up with the best version of the bill. In order to ensure experts had enough time to study the issue, the Government proposed to extend the time limit for the mental illness exclusion to two years. Additionally, the Government added the words “Indigenous identity” to the race-based data collection, and expanded the monitoring plan to include persons with disabilities. Finally, the Government also expanded the proposal for the Parliamentary review and the joint committee is to begin study within 30 days. Two other Senate amendments were turned down due to lack of study but the issues were highlighted to be included in the joint review.
The Senate agreed with the position of the House of Commons with respect to the bill, in “an historic collaboration” between both houses of Parliament, said Senator Marc Gold, the Government Representative in the Senate.
“The process that culminated in this new law is an extraordinary example of thoughtful and meaningful policy development by both houses of parliament,” he said. “For the government of the day not only to accept, but to build upon Senate amendments, and to have them passed in the House of Commons by a minority parliament, is an achievement that is as significant as it is historically quite rare.”