Changes coming to assisted dying rules
The Trudeau government has accepted a court ruling that Canadians should not have to be near death to qualify for medical assistance to end their lives but it is now considering whether other hurdles should be imposed to guard against abuse.
The possibility of new eligibility requirements was revealed Monday as the government launched a twoweek public consultation on how best to respond to a September court ruling that concluded it’s unconstitutional to limit the right to assisted death to those whose natural deaths are “reasonably foreseeable.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to appeal the ruling from the Superior Court of Quebec, which gave the government until March 11 to amend the law.
Once the consultations conclude on Jan. 27, the government will have only about six weeks in which to introduce legislation and pass it through both the House of Commons and Senate.
Justice Minister David Lametti said Monday he might have to seek an extension. But he suggested that public opinion has evolved so much since the law went into effect in June 2016, it may be possible to achieve agreement quickly.
“It’s possible under perfect circumstances,” he said in an interview.
“It may be that we have the consensus for it, depending on what we do, and then it slides through. If not, we haven’t ruled out asking for an extension.”
The government’s online questionnaire, launched Monday, suggests the coming amendments won’t be as simple as just removing the foreseeable-death provision. It asks Canadians to consider whether other restrictions should be implemented to ensure a balance between a person’s right to choose to end their life and protecting vulnerable people who could be pressured into early deaths.
Among other things, it asks respondents to consider whether amendments should:
• Increase the current 10-day minimum wait between requesting and receiving a medically assisted death.
• Require that both the medical practitioner and patient agree that other reasonable treatment options have been tried without success.
• Require psychological or psychiatric assessments to determine capacity to consent.
• Require consultation with an expert in a person’s medical condition, in addition to the current mandatory two medical assessments.
“We do have to strike an appropriate balance,” Lametti said, noting that there is “a sector of the population that sees itself as being vulnerable to being influenced.”
“Is that easy? No, but we have to do it if we’re going to move forward in a sensitive way.”
But Cory Ruf, spokesperson for Dying with Dignity Canada, warned politicians against applying more safeguards that could wind up unfairly depriving people of their right to an assisted death — and being shot down again by the courts. Requiring consultation with medical specialists, for instance, could create real barriers to access, especially for people living outside big cities.