Federal government seeks fourth extension to update assisted-dying law

The Trudeau government is seeking a fourth extension to a court-imposed deadline for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.

Justice Minister David Lametti is asking the court to give the government one more month — until March 26 — to pass Bill C-7.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing assisted dying only for people nearing the natural ends of their lives.

The bid for another extension reflects doubt that the government can get the bill passed by the current deadline, which is next Friday.

On Tuesday, the House of Commons is scheduled to begin debating whether to accept or reject major amendments to the bill passed by the Senate. 

That debate could drag on for days — and unless the Commons accepts all the amendments as they were made in the Senate, the bill must go back to the upper house, where senators will have to decide whether to defer to the elected chamber or dig in their heels.

Theoretically, the bill could bounce back and forth between the two parliamentary chambers indefinitely. 

The Senate was scheduled to resume sitting on Tuesday but that has now been delayed until next Friday — apparently in recognition that C-7 is unlikely to be back in senators’ laps before then.

Senate amendments

In a joint statement, Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said they continue to hope that the bill can receive royal assent by Feb. 26. But they said the government is seeking the one-month extension “as a prudent step” in case Parliament can’t meet the deadline.

“Amending Canada’s MAID (medical assistance in dying) law has been a lengthy and complex process. After months of review in both the House of Commons and the Senate, we are now at a critical stage,” the ministers said.

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

The Senate has passed the bill with five amendments, two of which would expand access well beyond what the government proposed. 

One would allow people who fear losing mental capacity to make advance requests for assisted dying. The other would impose an 18-month time limit on the bill’s proposed ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. 

The Conservatives, who were largely opposed to the original bill and dragged out the debate over it, have called for extended sitting hours for the Commons — even into the weekend — to allow for a thorough debate on the Senate amendments.

As the Liberals hold only a minority of seats in the Commons, the government would need the support of at least one opposition party to cut debate short.

It will also need at least one party to support its decision to accept, reject or modify each of the amendments.

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