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Key Senate changes reflected in new medical assistance in dying law

Bill C-7 received Royal Assent on March 17.

Legislation to expand access to medical assistance in dying in Canada, while also reinforcing safeguards, has become law following intense debate in the Senate that led to key changes accepted by the House of Commons.

The end result represents “an historic collaboration between our two houses of Parliament,” said Senator Marc Gold, the Government Representative in the Senate.

“The Government studied the Senate’s amendments, recognized their value and built on them to provide a strong foundation for the development of public policy going forward on matters of critical importance to all Canadians,” 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.”

Bill C-7 came in response to a Superior Court of Québec decision, which struck down as unconstitutional the requirement that death must be reasonably foreseeable in order for someone to be eligible for medical assistance in dying.

Under the leadership of Senator Chantal Petitclerc, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Senators undertook a comprehensive study, which culminated in a structured final round of debate by theme. The Senate proposed several amendments and sent the bill back to the House of Commons for consideration with overwhelming support.

Historic collaboration

In turn, the House of Commons used the Senate’s amendments as a bedrock to build upon, with a clear plan for moving forward on big outstanding issues, Senator Gold said.

The Government accepted a Senate proposal for a sunset period on the exclusion of medical assistance in dying for Canadians suffering solely from mental illness. However, the Government extended the time frame from 18 months to 24 months so that the issue can be properly studied by experts.

The Government accepted a Senate proposal to collect race-based data on those who access medical assistance in dying, and expanded the monitoring regime to include persons with disabilities. Additionally, the Government added the words “Indigenous identity” to the data collection in order to capture as many groups as possible.

The Government also expanded a Senate proposal for a joint Parliamentary review of the medical assistance in dying regime, which will begin 30 days after Bill C-7 receives Royal Assent.

The House of Commons turned down two other Senate amendments, noting that they required further study, and could be included in the joint review.

The Senate agreed with the position of the elected chamber on its amendments.

“The Senate discharged its constitutional role with sensitivity and with distinction,” Senator Gold said of the difficult debate that engaged deep personal convictions.

“I am proud of the work that we’ve accomplished together, and I am proud to represent a government that believes in the legislative value of a more independent and less partisan Senate.”

Key Senate changes reflected in new medical assistance in dying law