Canadian Senate expected to vote on Bill C-7 (bill to expand euthanasia law) on February 17.

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Editor’s note. This is excerpted from a post that appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog. Posted with permission.

Joan Bryden is reported for the Canadian Press that Bill C-7, the bill to expand euthanasia in Canada, is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate on February 17.

The date is based on giving the House of Commons at least one week to debate possible Senate amendments to Bill C-7 before February 26, the deadline imposed by the Quebec Superior Court.

Bryden points out that this is a tight time-frame, considering that some Senators are proposing amendments to Bill C-7. Bryden explains:

An amended version of the bill would have to go back to the House of Commons for MPs to decide whether to accept or reject the amendments before shipping it back to the Senate, where senators would have to decide whether to approve the bill even if some or all of their amendments were rejected.

In theory, the bill could bounce repeatedly back and forth between chambers.

Bryden explains that there are divergent views on amending Bill C-7. She wrote:

Sen. Pierre Dalphond, a former judge who sits in the Progressive Senate Group, argued that the exclusion of those suffering solely from mental illnesses is unconstitutional, violating their right to equal treatment under the law regardless of physical or mental disability.

Dalphond said he believes it’s reasonable to propose a sunset clause to put a time limit on that exclusion, giving the government time to come up with guidelines for providing assisted dying to people with mental illnesses.

And he said he’ll introduce another amendment to specify that the ill-defined concept of mental illness does not include neuro-cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

There is support among senators for referring the bill to the Supreme Court for advice on its constitutionality, both from those who think it’s too restrictive and those who think it’s too permissive.

Sen. Don Plett, leader of the Conservatives in the Senate, questioned why senators are rushing to expand access to what he termed “physician-induced death,” based on “a lower court decision made by one judge in one province” that the government chose not to appeal.

He implored his colleagues to listen to disability rights advocates who have denounced the bill for sending the “harmful and tragic message” that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living.

Plett argued that extending access before improving palliative care and support services for people with disabilities will make it “easier to die than to live” and doesn’t give vulnerable people a real choice.

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters said it’s “disgraceful” that the government is pushing a bill to expand access to assisted dying in the midst of a pandemic, when vulnerable people are even more “alone, isolated and economically disadvantaged” and with even less access to support services.

She argued that Black, racialized, Indigenous and poor Canadians with disabilities, “people who have been routinely pushed to the margins of our society,” are “crying out to us for help but they don’t want help to die, they want help to live.”

The Ontario Medical Association has asked the Senate to amend Bill C-7 by including conscience rights for medical professionals.

Canada’s Justice Minister, David Lametti, announced on November 24 that, once Bill C-7 is passed, he wants to expand euthanasia to people with mental illness alone.