Deadline for proposed changes to assisted dying laws extended to July 11

Quebec Superior Court ruled that the reasonably foreseeable requirement was unconstitutional

By Graham Whittaker

The March 11th deadline to broaden assisted-dying legislation has been pushed forward four months.

The federal government put forward its proposed changes to the existing legislation regarding medical assistance in dying (MAID) on February 24th. In light of this, the original court-ordered deadline was moved to July 11th.

These changes come in response to a Quebec Superior Court ruling in September that requirements in the existing legislation is a violation of Canadians’ charter rights — specifically that the natural death of a patient must be “reasonably foreseeable” before they can be eligible.

It has received criticism in the past as being too vague to be enforced effectively. As a result, it disqualifies many of those who may be living in unbearable pain or are unable to function based on the lack of imminent natural death.

The new bill would repeal this requirement, as well as make other changes that would make MAID more accessible.

However, when this is taken out, many of those with mental illnesses as the only underlying condition become eligible. So in place of the previous requirement, the proposed legislation disqualifies anyone without a physical medical condition.

Another major issue these changes seek address has to do with consent and how a patient’s capacity to give their consent can be effected by their medical condition.

If a patient meets all the requirements, there needs to be a 10-day “reflection period” and a patient must consent a second time before they can move forward with the treatment. The new changes would remove both of these requirements.

Also, under current legislation, should a patient’s condition deteriorate to the point that they lose their ability to consent, the medical practitioner cannot administer treatment.

Many patients are faced with the choice of ending their life prematurely or risk not having the capacity to consent further down the line and having their request refused.

With terminal cancers and neurological conditions, which significantly impact brain function, being among the most cited reasons for MAID, the new legislation seeks to avoid this unfortunate reality.

For example, though minors are disqualified in both the new and old legislation, the new bill puts forth possible considerations in the case of a “mature minor” with a terminal condition. In the event that they may lose their ability to consent before reaching the age of majority, they may give consent of treatment in advance.

The amendment would also wave the need for a second independent witness to sign-off with the patient.

All of this comes ahead of the required review of MAID legislation set to begin by June 2020.