Federal government asks for another 5 months to revamp assisted dying law

The federal government is asking for another extension of five months to comply with a court ruling ordering changes to Canada’s medical assistance in dying law, arguing the global pandemic has disrupted parliamentary proceedings.

Justice Minister Lametti says the government needs more time to meet court's deadline because of pandemic

The federal government is seeking a second five-month extension to comply with a court ruling that declared parts of Canada's medical assistance in dying law unconstitutional. (Richard Lyons/Shutterstock)

The federal government is asking for another five months to comply with a court ruling ordering changes to Canada's medical assistance in dying (MAID) law, arguing the global pandemic's disruption of parliamentary proceedings has made it impossible to change the law in time.

Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti filed a motion requesting an extension to December 18 to respond to a September 2019 Superior Court of Quebec ruling. It's the second request for an extension.

The government introduced C-7 in February in response to the Truchon ruling, which found that the law's precondition for assisted death — that the individual seeking it must face a "reasonably foreseeable" natural death — was unconstitutional. The bill proposes to remove that requirement and also disqualifies those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges, including the disruption of the current parliamentary session. While this legislation remains a priority for the government of Canada, the realities of the pandemic have unfortunately rendered it impossible to advance bill C-7 through the parliamentary process in order to meet the current deadline of July 11, 2020," reads a statement from Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

"A five-month extension of the ruling's suspension period is needed to provide sufficient time for Parliament to properly consider and enact this proposed legislation, which is of importance to many Canadians and families across the country."

Proposed changes would also permit MAID for someone whose death is reasonably foreseeable — but who has lost the capacity to consent since deciding to do so through an agreement with a medical or nurse practitioner.

Removing 10-day 'reflection period'

C-7 also removes the 10-day "reflection period" and waives the requirement that a patient provide final consent.

At the time the bill was tabled, Lametti said changes to the rules on consent will prevent cases of patients opting to end their lives sooner than they might otherwise because they fear losing their ability to give consent.

"No one should be faced with such an impossible choice," he said.

Earlier today, James Cowan, chair of the advocacy group Dying With Dignity, issued a statement urging the federal government to speed up passage of the bill.

"Though this bill is not perfect, it will give Canadians fairer access to their constitutional right to make informed end-of-life choices, and ease the suffering of many who are currently denied a peaceful and dignified death under the law," he said.

He said C-7 is an "important and necessary" step to make assisted dying more accessible to Canadians.

"I acknowledge that this is an interesting time to make a request to our federal representatives, but I know that this bill is only one of many steps we will need to take in order to remove the remaining unfair barriers and obstacles to end-of-life choice in this country," he said.

Conservative justice critic Rob Moore said most legislation is stalled right now.

"Conservatives believe that Parliament should be sitting so that MPs can debate legislation, review government spending and get results for Canadians," he said.

Without the extension requested by the government, the "reasonable foreseeability of natural death" requirement would no longer apply in Quebec as of July 12, but would remain in effect everywhere else in the country.