The Liberal government introduced a bill Thursday that will delay until 2027 the expansion of medical assistance in dying to include people suffering solely from mental illness.
Health Minister Mark Holland introduced the bill and Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters it would be necessary to wait until Canada’s health care system is ready to implement the expansion .
“Because of the importance of the decision, because of the nature of the consequences of this type of policy, we need to make sure we get it right, and we are committed to doing that,” Virani said.
“Putting a pause for the next three years will ensure the system is ready, as the health system has indicated,” he said.
Holland said the decision to delay the expansion until after the next federal election has nothing to do with electoral politics, but was made to ensure the health system is ready. “Election or partisan issues are not important,” he said.
Holland said that to roll out the expansion, he needs to be confident that people have been properly trained so that the right decisions are made.
“What I’ve heard specifically from my provincial and territorial counterparts is that to get to this point it would take them a lot of time,” Holland said.
The committee recommended a postponement
This is the second time the government has sought to delay the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the Quebec Superior Court invalidated the government’s initial 2016 law because it was limited to people whose the death was “reasonably foreseeable”.
A new law passed in 2021 delayed the expansion of medical assistance in dying to include people with mental illness by two years. This deadline was later pushed back to March 17 of this year.
A special committee, made up of 15 deputies and senators, was tasked by the federal government last fall to determine whether the health system is ready to cope with expansion.
After hearing from dozens of witnesses, the committee released a report Monday concluding that Canada is not ready.
Delay violates Charter: senators
Senators Stan Kutcher, Pamela Wallin and Marie-Françoise Mégie, who jointly authored one of the two dissenting opinions on this report, held a press conference Thursday to urge the government to expand medical assistance in dying.
“We believe that the committee’s majority report, if accepted by the Government of Canada, will deprive Canadians with mental illness of their Charter rights to end-of-life care by discriminating against their right to seek treatment. ‘AMM,’ said Senator Kutcher.
Kutcher, former chair of the department of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, said the report “failed to fulfill its mandate, it failed to accurately represent the weight of the testimony and, ultimately, it has failed to uphold the Charter rights of all Canadians.
Senator Wallin said the government’s U-turn on assisted dying is “shocking”.
“There has been an about-face on the part of the government on this issue, or perhaps they have shown bad faith from the beginning. I don’t know how to put it any other way,” he said. -she declared.
“They led people to believe that MAID was going to continue to be available to people…they created hope for people and I believe they have now dashed it,” Wallin added.
Holland said that while he had deep respect for Kutchner and his advocacy, he had no choice but to introduce Thursday’s bill.
“Every province, every territory has said they’re not ready. CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) has said they’re not ready. The Canadian Mental Health Association has said ‘He wasn’t ready,’ Holland said.
“So I appreciate that some people think we’re ready, but when those who are going to provide the services…all universally say they’re not ready…we have to listen to that.”