Politics

Liberals, Bloc Quebecois join forces to pass revised assisted dying bill

The House of Commons has approved a revised bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying, eventually including people suffering solely from mental illnesses. 

MPs pass bill 180 to 149 with most Bloc, Liberal MPs in support

MPs will vote today on a government motion that responds to five amendments senators proposed to Bill C-7. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

The House of Commons has approved a revised bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying, eventually including people suffering solely from mental illnesses. 

A revised version of Bill C-7 has passed by a vote of 180-149, supported by most Liberal and Bloc Quebecois MPs, with Conservative, NDP and two of three Green MPs opposed. 

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling which struck down a provision that allows assisted dying only for intolerably suffering individuals whose natural death is "reasonably foreseeable." 

The government has made some revisions to the original bill in response to amendments approved last month by senators who voted to allow advance requests for assisted deaths and to impose an 18-month time limit on the bill's originally proposed blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. 

WATCH | MPs vote to include mental illness in MAID program:

MPs vote to include mental illness in MAID program

1 year ago
Duration 2:04
Canada has moved one step closer to expanding medical assistance in dying legislation to include people only suffering from mental illness, after the governing Liberals forced a vote on the issue Thursday.

The government rejected the advance request amendment but is now proposing to put a two-year time limit on the mental illness exclusion. 

The revised bill must now go back to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected chamber or insist on their amendments.

Earlier in the day Bloc House leader Alain Therrien said his party took the "extremely rare" move out of "compassion." 

"There are people suffering. There are people waiting for us to do our work and it is time for us, after all of this debate, to act and be compassionate towards them," he told the Commons. 

The bill had been stuck at its next-to-last hurdle for several weeks as Conservatives repeatedly talked out the clock or refused evening sittings of the Commons to finish dealing with it.

The bill was approved last month by the Senate with some substantive amendments — including allowing advance requests for assisted deaths and imposing an 18-month time limit on the bill's proposed blanket ban for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

The government had been trying since then to get the Commons to agree to a motion laying out its response to the Senate changes, which includes rejecting advance requests and agreeing to a two-year time limit on the mental illness exclusion. 

They just want to stop it altogether: Lametti

Justice Minister David Lametti said 139 MPs had spoken for nearly 45 hours on the bill since it was introduced just over a year ago. He noted that the Conservatives three times rejected government proposals to extend sitting hours to allow more debate specifically on the Senate amendments.

"They don't want more time. They just want to stop it altogether," he told the Commons. 

But Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said the use of closure was "quite unprecedented" on a topic that is so sensitive. He argued that hundreds of thousands of Canadians have concerns about the bill, particularly about the Senate-triggered change to include people suffering solely from mental illnesses. 

"Why would the government limit reasonable questions of concern, particularly when it comes to mental health, and use closure in this way on C-7?"

NDP pledged to vote against bill

Green and New Democrat MPs also spoke and voted against closure. 

NDP MP Don Davies said he personally supports medical assistance in dying "but I also know a flawed bill when I see one." 

He noted that disability rights groups have condemned the bill, arguing that it devalues the lives of people with disabilities who may be pressured — either directly or indirectly through societal attitudes and a lack of support services — into ending their lives prematurely. 

Disability rights groups have been opposed to the bill from the outset but New Democrats nevertheless supported the original version.

Earlier Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would vote against the revised bill on the grounds that unelected senators should not rewrite legislation passed by MPs. 

"We don't believe that the Senate should be doing the work of elected officials," he said. 

Once passed by the Commons, the revised bill must still go back to the Senate next week, where senators will have to decide whether to accept or reject the verdict of the elected chamber. 

Lametti said he's "pretty confident" that senators will accept the modifications the government has made to the Senate amendments. 

The bill is a response to a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision in the law that allows assisted dying only for intolerably suffering individuals whose natural death is "reasonably foreseeable." 

The government has sought and received four extensions to the court-imposed deadline for bringing the law into compliance with the ruling. The latest — and very likely the last extension, the court has warned — expires March 26. 

The bill would expand assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives.

It would also relax eligibility rules for people who are near death but set out more restrictive rules for those who are not.

WATCH | Ottawa prepared to expand MAID program:

Ottawa prepared to expand MAID program to mental illness

1 year ago
Duration 1:59
The federal government wants to expand the medical assistance in dying program to include those with incurable mental illness two years after expanded legislation passes, but some argue the government needs to provide better mental health support first.

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