Canadian Senate passes bill broadening access to medically assisted death

Anna Mehler Paperny
·2 min read

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Senate on Wednesday passed a bill expanding the scope of medically assisted death, which would make the option accessible to people with a serious medical condition but whose death is not considered imminent.

Assisted death has been legal in Canada since 2016 but a Quebec court in 2019 ruled the law's requirement that the person's natural death be "reasonably foreseeable" to be unconstitutional.

The new law will remove that requirement, and opens the door to allowing assisted death for people whose sole underlying condition is mental illness. It prohibits for two years assisted death for people whose only underlying condition is mental illness, after which the government is expected to bring forward a framework allowing people with mental illness to access assisted death.

Almost 14,000 people accessed medically assisted death in Canada between 2016 and 2019, according to government data.

Assisted death is legal in some form in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland and several U.S. states.

The new law would make it easier to access assisted death in Canada than in some other countries, said Jocelyn Downie, a law and health policy professor at Dalhousie University - a framework closer to Belgium and the Netherlands than the United States and Australia.

The bill's fundamental element is choice, Downie said, adding that better supports for people with disabilities or mental illness are still needed.

The bill drew vehement opposition from groups who say it devalues the lives of people with disabilities and people with mental illness.

"[The government's] actions set us back decades and will further entrench disability-based discrimination in this country," Krista Carr of advocacy group Inclusion Canada said in a statement last week.

Before it becomes law, the acting head of state will have to sign the bill, but it is a formality.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)