A woman holds the hand of her dying mother at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg, July 24, 2010. The Liberal government on Monday introduced legislation easing restrictions around assisted dying. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

Liberals introduce legislation to expand assisted dying access

Canada’s federal government has introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for Canadians seeking medical help to end their lives.

The bill amends a four-year-old law introduced by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government that followed a landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling that struck down the prohibition on medically assisted death (MAID).

The legislation would scrap a provision in the law that allows only those already near death to receive medical assistance in dying.

And it would drop the requirement that a person must wait 10 days–a so-called “reflection period”– after being approved for an assisted death before receiving the procedure.

It would also waive the requirement that a patient provide final consent.

“We know that there are patients who have met all the criteria to receive MAID, but who are not quite ready to go ahead with the procedure, Justice Minister David Lametti told a news conference in Ottawa on Monday.

“Many are worried that they would lose access. Some have chosen to end their lives prematurely, sacrificing their chance to spend more time with their families.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough, left, Justice Minister David Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu are seen at news conference in Ottawa as they announced details of new legislation on medically assisted dying. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“No one should be faced with such an impossible choice,” Lametti said, citing the case of Audrey Parker, a Nova Scotia woman who in 2018 chose a medically assisted death earlier than she wanted because she feared doctors would deny her the procedure if she lost her mental capacity to consent before the time arrived.

“We’re talking about people who are suffering, families going through some of the most difficult times of their lives,” Lametti said.

“So when it comes to these deeply personal and complex issues, we must act responsibly and, most importantly, with compassion.”

While the proposed legislation eases restrictions for those near death, it would make eligibility requirements for those not near death more restrictive.

They would face a 90-day assessment period that could be shortened if loss of mental capacity is imminent.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told Monday’s news conference additional safeguards for people not near death are meant to protect vulnerable individuals, such as the disabled and the elderly, from being pressured into an early death.

Introduction of the bill follows a Quebec Superior Court ruling last September that found the federal law unconstitutional because it restricted eligibility for medically assisted death to those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

With files from CBC (Kathleen Harris), Canadian Press (Joan Bryden), CTV (Rachel Aiello)

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