Committee of the Whole on Bill C-39: Senator Dalphond questions Ministers Lametti and Duclos

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Senator Dalphond: Welcome to the Senate, ministers. I understand why some people are concerned. By allowing access to medical assistance in dying for mental illness, Canada is moving in a direction that is not common throughout the world, but there are countries that do allow it, such as the Netherlands.

Professor Donna Stewart from the University of Toronto testified before the special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate that she had studied the last 20 years of Dutch statistics on access to medical assistance in dying for mental illness and she noted, for one, that in 2020, 95% of requests had been rejected. She also noted that those who accessed MAID solely for mental illness reasons represented 1.3% of the total number of people accessing medical assistance in dying. I assume that the government is aware of these numbers and that you expect that the experience in Canada will be similar. The reality is that it won’t be easy to access and the numbers will be low.

Mr. Duclos: Yes, because the important thing is to take care of people. Protecting vulnerable people is the primary objective, the fundamental objective of everything the government does. We are fortunate to do what you do as well, and it is our objective in life to help people live a better life. That is why the purpose of all the conditions imposed on accessing medical assistance in dying is to ensure that the people have received all the necessary social, economic and medical support to live a full life until a natural end.

However, as you said, there are terrible circumstances where for years or decades, as Minister Lametti also said, people experience incredible and intolerable suffering, suffering that cannot be reduced, that is irremediable and is in no way alleviated by any form of treatment whatsoever. These people are absolutely capable of making that choice and can give clear and informed consent. These people want to be independent until the end of their life and it is in these rare cases that access to medical assistance in dying would be granted and will be granted in Canada, as is the case in other countries that are already doing this.

Senator Dalphond: Recommendation 13 of the special joint committee’s report stated that, five months before March 2024, the committee should be re-established to ensure that the required measures have been put in place, that the provinces and territories are ready and the training and guidelines are ready. Do you agree with this recommendation?

Mr. Lametti: We just received the report and naturally have read it. I thank Senator Martin, our honourable colleague, Marc Garneau, and all the members of this committee for their work. I have to say that, personally, I’m not against this recommendation. As I just pointed out, I’m certain that in six or seven months, we will be in a good position for the committee to review this issue.

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