OTTAWA — Senators have voted to give the federal government 18 months to expand access to assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.
By a vote of 57-21, with six abstentions, they’ve agreed to add an 18-month sunset clause to a provision in Bill C-7 that would have imposed a blanket prohibition on assisted dying for anyone suffering solely from mental illness.
Sen. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist and member of the Independent Senators Group who proposed the amendment, says the bill’s exclusion is unconstitutional and stigmatizes people with mental illness, implying that their suffering is not real.
He argues that the sunset clause will give the government, provinces, territories and professional associations adequate time to develop safeguards and guidelines for providing the procedure in cases involving only mental illness.
Justice Minister David Lametti has argued the exclusion is necessary because there is no consensus among psychiatrists on the issue because the trajectory of mental illness is often unpredictable.
As well, Lametti argues that a wish to die is often a symptom of a mental illness.