That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), the House:
agrees with amendment 1(a)(ii) made by the Senate;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 1(a)(i) because this matter, including questions of most appropriate precise definitions, whether those definitions should be included in the Criminal Code or elsewhere, and whether any consequential amendments or protections relating to issues such as consent and capacity are necessary in relation to such an amendment, will also be addressed by the expert panel and the upcoming parliamentary review, and the Government will collaborate with provincial and territorial health authorities to ensure a consistent approach;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 1(a)(iii), 1(b) and 1(c) because it would permit advance requests for medical assistance in dying before an individual has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, a change which goes beyond the scope of the bill, and further, this expansion of the medical assistance in dying regime requires significant consultations and study, including a careful examination of the safeguards for persons preparing advance request and safeguards for practitioners administering medical assistance in dying, all of which could be part of the parliamentary review undertaken to study this important type of advance request to reflect the crucial input of Canadians affected by the medical assistance in dying regime;
proposes that, with respect to amendment 2:
the portion of paragraph 241.31(3)(a) before subparagraph (i) be amended by replacing it with the following:
“(a) respecting the provision and collection, for the purpose of monitoring medical assistance in dying, of information relating to requests for, and the provision of, medical assistance in dying, including”;
clause 241.31(3)(a)(i)(B) be amended by adding after the words “respecting the race” the words “or indigenous identity”;
subparagraph 241.31(3)(a)(i) be amended by deleting “and” at the end of clause (A), by adding “and” at the end of clause (B) and by adding the following after clause (B):
“(C) information — other than information that must be provided in relation to the assessment of eligibility to receive medical assistance in dying and the application of safeguards — respecting any disability, as defined in section 2 of the Accessible Canada Act, of a person who requests or receives medical assistance in dying, if the person consents to providing that information,”;
paragraph 241.31(3)(b) be amended by replacing it with the following:
“(b) respecting the use, analysis and interpretation of that information, including for the purposes of determining the presence of any inequality – including systemic inequality – or disadvantage based on race, Indigenous identity, disability or other characteristics, in medical assistance in dying;”;
as a consequence of amendments 1(a)(ii) and 3, proposes that the following amendment be added:
“1. New clause 3.1, page 9: Add the following after line 20:
3.1 (1) The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health must cause an independent review to be carried out by experts respecting recommended protocols, guidance and safeguards to apply to requests made for medical assistance in dying by persons who have a mental illness.
(2) A report containing the experts’ conclusions and recommendations must be provided to the Ministers no later than the first anniversary of the day on which this Act receives royal assent.
(3) The Ministers must cause the report to be tabled in each House of Parliament within the first 15 days on which the House is sitting after the day on which they receive the report.”;”
proposes that, with respect to amendment 3:
section 5 be amended by replacing it with the following:
5 (1) A comprehensive review of the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to medical assistance in dying and their application, including but not limited to issues relating to mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities must be undertaken by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.
(2) The Joint Committee shall be composed of five Members of the Senate and ten Members of the House of Commons, including five Members from the governing party, three Members of the Official Opposition, and two Members of the opposition who are not Members of the Official Opposition, with two Chairs of which the House Co-Chair shall be from the governing party and the Senate Co-Chair shall be determined by the Senate.
(3) The quorum of the Committee is to be eight Members whenever a vote, resolution or other decision is taken, so long as both Houses and one Member of the governing party in the House and one from the opposition in the House and one Member of the Senate are represented, and that the Joint Chairs be authorized to hold meetings, to receive evidence and authorize the printing thereof, whenever six Members are present, so long as both Houses and one Member of the governing party in the House and one Member from the opposition in the House and one Member of the Senate are represented.
(4) The Committee must commence its review within 30 days after the day on which this Act receives royal assent.
(5) The Committee must submit a report of its review – including a statement of any recommended changes – to Parliament no later than one year after the day on which it commenced the review.
(6) When the report, referenced in paragraph (5), has been tabled in both Houses, the Committee shall expire.”;
section 6 be amended by replacing the words “18 months after” with the words “on the second anniversary of”.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks today by acknowledging the comprehensive study and debate of Bill C-7 in the other place. I applaud their diligence in holding a pre-study of Bill C-7 this past November and an in-depth committee study of the bill earlier this month, and a thematic third reading debate two weeks ago.
The matter of medical assistance in dying, or MAID, is a serious and complex one. The Senate has given it serious thought, and I believe we have given it serious thought in our response in this motion.
Before discussing the amendments, I want to remind hon. members of the process that got us here.
As members will recall, the bill proposes a legislative response to the Superior Court of Quebec's Truchon and Gladu decision in which the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to limit MAID to persons whose death was reasonably foreseeable.
To develop this bill, my colleagues, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, our parliamentary secretaries and I held round table discussions across Canada with over 125 experts and stakeholders.
The government also ran a public online survey, to which over 300,000 Canadians across the country responded. A report summarizing the consultations was released in March. Our government fulfilled its mandate by creating this legislation. The whole process resulted in the bill that was introduced in the House last February.
As hon. members know, we had a thorough debate on this bill before the work of the House was suspended.
The objective of the bill is to recognize the autonomy of individuals choosing MAID as a means of relieving intolerable suffering regardless of the foreseeability of their natural death, while at the same time protecting vulnerable persons and affirming the inherent and equal value of every person's life.
Bill C-7 proposes important changes to the Criminal Code's provisions on MAID in response to the Truchon decision and informed by the results of the January and February 2020 consultations. We recognize these changes represent a critical shift. Our government has been working very hard since the Truchon decision on responding to this important court ruling and remains committed to doing so as quickly as possible.
After months of review of Bill C-7 in both the House of Commons and the Senate, we are now at a critical stage. There are Canadians who are suffering intolerably and would become eligible for MAID under the government's proposed changes, but they are currently unable to access the medical assistance in dying regime. This matter has been thoroughly examined and Canadians need to be able to access the regime. We are renewing our commitment to the parliamentary review to look at the wide variety of other issues related to MAID outside of Bill C-7, but it is essential that we pass this legislation.
Following its thorough debate, the other place has adopted five amendments to Bill C-7. The most significant amendment is the sunset clause that would repeal the mental illness exclusion 18 months after Bill C-7 receives royal assent. I know that many senators and some witnesses from whom they heard believe that the exclusion of mental illness unjustifiably infringes the equality rights guaranteed by section 15 of the charter. I do not share that view. It is my opinion as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada that the mental illness exclusion is constitutional because it serves a protective purpose and is narrowly crafted.
I have spoken before about the inherent complexities and risks with MAID on the basis of mental illness as the sole criterion, such as suicidality being a symptom of some mental illnesses, the impossibility of predicting whether in any given case symptoms will improve or not and the increased difficulty of capacity assessments. These are the concerns that led the government to exclude mental illness as the sole condition for MAID eligibility, given the proposal to broaden it beyond the end of life context. This decision was accompanied by a commitment to further consider the issue of MAID for mental illness in the parliamentary review required by former Bill C-14.
We heard from witnesses who share those concerns, but we also heard from several others who said that excluding everyone with mental illness as a sole underlying condition could be stigmatizing and pointless.
Some mental health experts believe that practitioners can assess the eligibility criteria case by case, particularly the voluntariness of each request and each patient's decision-making capacity.
In November 2020, the Association des psychiatres du Québec released a discussion paper exploring safeguards and procedures that could be put in place for the provision of MAID on the ground of mental illness alone.
While I do think the exclusion is constitutional, and I do not believe that we are fully prepared to safely proceed with the provision of MAID on the ground of mental illness alone, I also hear the concern expressed by Canadians that this exclusion fails to address the issue of whether and when the provision of MAID will be permitted to alleviate intolerable suffering due to mental illness.
That is why I propose that we support the sunset clause, but with an amendment so that it would repeal the mental illness exclusion after 24 months instead of after 18 months, after Bill C-7 comes into force. In combination with this amendment, I am also proposing the enactment of the requirement that the Minister of Health and I establish an expert panel to review safeguards protocols for guidance for such cases. We would give this group of experts 12 months to consider these difficult questions and make their recommendations to us, which we will make public by tabling their report in Parliament. The government and Parliament would then have 12 additional months to consider what safeguards should be legislated before the exclusion is repealed.
We hope this compromise can be acceptable to the other place. While some work has begun on potential safeguards for this group of persons, the work is far from complete and enacting legislation takes time. We think 24 months is still an ambitious timeline to implement such an important change in Canada's MAID policy, but it still provides a fixed timeline in the relatively near future for considering MAID eligibility on the basis of mental illness.
We also welcome the Senate's amendment concerning the parliamentary review. We suggest making a few changes to the timetable for completing the work, and we think it is appropriate to include key issues that this review will address.
The parliamentary review should address important issues, most of which were highlighted during the procedures and committee debates on Bill C-7 in both chambers, including palliative care in Canada, protecting Canadians with disabilities, safeguards for persons with mental illness, medical assistance in dying for mature minors, advance requests for medical assistance in dying and the legislation on medical assistance in dying more generally.
The spirit of the amendment aligns with the government's commitment to make it easier to call for a parliamentary review as soon as possible following royal assent to Bill C-7. This review is absolutely essential for the future of medical assistance in dying in Canada.
During consultations and the committee process in the House and in the Senate, we noted that a certain number of issues should have been reviewed and addressed, but they required a more in-depth study than was possible to carry out within the court-imposed deadline.
Bill C-14 calls on Parliament to conduct that review, and we are using this message today to initiate the process. While the motion sets out important issues that need to be examined, I do not expect the list to be limited to only those issues. Medical assistance in dying is a very broad subject, and we hope to hear from many Canadians on a wide variety of subjects related to it.
Having heard from many witnesses and spoken to many Canadians about Bill C-7, I know that people have different views on these issues. They are challenging issues, and I look forward to the parliamentary review, to hearing from many more Canadians on the subject and to seeing what comes out of this review.
I will let other colleagues speak in greater detail about the Senate amendments to the MAID monitoring regime. I will say that I am proud to support this Senate amendment, with some modifications to make it more inclusive, as a necessary step in the right direction toward gathering better data to inform us all, going forward, about the operation of MAID in Canada. Good data is what grounds good policy, and by knowing more about who requests MAID and why, we can assess the impact of broadening the MAID regime and provide Canadians with the transparency and public trust that such a regime requires.
That brings me to two Senate amendments that I do not believe we can support.
The Senate adopted an amendment that will enable people whose death is not reasonably foreseeable to sign a waiver of final consent. Bill C-7 set out a general policy on the waiver of final consent that intentionally limited it to the most obvious cases with the least amount of uncertainty, specifically when a person's death was reasonably foreseeable and the person was ready to receive medical assistance in dying.
Since the question of expanding the circumstances in which medical assistance in dying can be administered in the absence of contemporaneous consent requires more in-depth study, it is best if it is addressed by the parliamentary review. I know that many people will be disappointed with that decision.
Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sandra Demontigny, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at 39 years of age. She is an advocate for advance requests for medical assistance in dying. We had a long conversation. I was very touched by her story, her beliefs and her book. We will soon begin an in-depth study of this important issue during the parliamentary review.
Finally, while I appreciate the efforts at clarifying what constitutes a mental illness in the MAID context, this is a matter that can and will be addressed by the expert panel and the upcoming parliamentary review, and the government will collaborate with provincial and territorial health authorities to ensure a consistent approach. Through this work, I am confident there will be consistency on the scope of the exclusion, going forward.
Medical assistance in dying has always been a difficult issue that generates a variety of opinions on all sides of the issue. It is an issue that strikes deeply to every Canadian's personal morals and sensibilities. As such, it requires different interests to be considered. I firmly believe that Bill C-7 does so. The law would continue to require informed consent and a voluntary request made by a person with decision-making capacity, while also creating a more robust set of safeguards when the person's natural death is not reasonably foreseeable. These safeguards would require significant attention to be paid to all of the alternatives that might help alleviate suffering on the part of a person whose death is not reasonably foreseeable.
I believe that Bill C-7 is one important and prudent step in ensuring greater respect for the autonomy of a broader category of Canadians who are suffering intolerably. Our legislation would make only the necessary changes to ensure a MAID regime that is responsive to our experience to date and respects the charter rights and freedoms of Canadians to autonomy and safety. In Carter the court said, “the risks associated with physician-assisted death can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards”, and that is exactly what Bill C-7 would continue to do.
I look forward to working with all members of Parliament to pass these reasonable amendments prior to the court deadline on Friday. If the suspension period expires without the passage of Bill C-7, Truchon would come into effect without the benefit of the protection, safeguards and exclusions of our proposed bill. I encourage all members of the House to support the government's motion on the Bill C-7 amendments.