OTTAWA - The Canadian government is delaying indefinitely the expansion of euthanasia for people with mental illness, but declares the expansion of the bill remains a "top priority".
Bill C-7, an Act to amend the Criminal Code regarding "medical assistance in dying", was introduced in the House of Commons on February 24, 2020 by the Minister of Justice. It was adopted at first reading on the same day. Since then, Bill C-7 has undergone numerous amendments expanding it to include more people. The next amendment would expand "medical assistance in dying" for people with mental illnesses.
Despite the announcement of the delay in expanding "medical assistance in dying" for the mentally ill, euthanasia for Canadians remains a "top priority for our government" according to Justice Minister David Lametti as said at his press conference.
"The government had heard from experts who are concerned that the health care system may not be ready to handle these complex cases," said Justice Minister David Lametti on December 15 in Ottawa, according to Le Devoir. However, the Minister of Justice reassures the public that this will not change the course of the proposed expansion of Bill C-7 for Canadians with mental illnesses, but rather ensure that it runs smoothly.
"My colleague, Minister Duclot, and Health Canada have been working closely with the provinces, territories, and their medical communities to prepare for the evolution of physician assisted dying. The progress is significant. We are well on our way to finalizing national standards for medically assisted dying for people with a mental disorder as their sole criterion. They will be ready before the March deadline," said David Lametti.
During the same conference, the Minister of Justice reassured Canadians that the delay is due to an effort to listen from the government and while some experts, such as Dr. Gupta, believe that doctors are ready for this change, "others" are not and have expressed their concerns.
Although the Minister of Justice is not revealing who these concerned experts are, we know that there are physicians like Dr. Paul Saba or Dr. Catherine Ferrier who are part of the Physicians Against Euthanasia Collective and who are concerned about "the increasingly broad categories" to whom "medical assistance in dying" is being offered, as mentioned in their open letter to the President and Board of Directors of the Collège des Médecins du Québec.
The Council of Canadian Academies working group also has shown concern according to the Legislative Summary of Bill C-7: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying):
"The Council of Canadian Academies working group that reported on the issue had several areas of disagreement on issues relevant to the application of any law that might expand access to MAID for people living with mental illness. For example, members of the group could not agree on whether it is possible to distinguish between a person who wishes to die by suicide due to the symptoms of their mental disorder and a person with a mental disorder who is able to make an autonomous, well-considered decision to request MAID."
In fact, after the press conference, Global News asked the Minister of Justice a similar question to understand if people with mental disorders should apply for MAiD because suicidal ideation could be a symptom of a person with mental illness.
Minister Lametti responded, "I think it's clear that if you're thinking about suicide, that's not a good reason to get medical aid in dying... I want to reassure Canadians that if you're thinking about suicide, you should get help, but that's not what the MAiD regime is for. It's something else."
Finally, when CBC asked "If there was a chance that [the bill on] medical aid in dying for reasons of mental illness would not pass?"
The Minister of Justice replied, "I think that would require a very different bill. Right now, we're only delaying its implementation."