Bill coming in ‘days’ on plans for assisted dying expansion delay: minister

Click to play video: 'Ottawa hits pause on plans to expand MAID to include mental health'
Ottawa hits pause on plans to expand MAID to include mental health
The federal government is delaying its plan to expand medical assistance in dying to those with a serious mental illness. Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam of The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health discusses the concerns around the controversial issue. – Jan 31, 2024

Health Minister Mark Holland says he plans to table legislation “in a couple days time” that will lay out more clearly the federal government’s plans on the timing of the expansion for medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to cover people whose sole condition is mental illness.

That comes as provinces and territories have asked the federal government for an indefinite pause on the controversial expansion that was set to take place in March, but was delayed for a second time on Monday following warnings from a parliamentary committee report.

“The policy intention, as I said, is to make sure that we take the time necessary to get this right,” Holland said on his way into the cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

“In a few days’ time, once the legislation is tabled, we can have a detailed discussion on what time is necessary.”

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On Monday, Holland announced a pause on the planned expansion of MAiD that had been set to happen this spring for people with a mental health condition being the sole reason for seeking assisted dying.

That comes after then-justice minister David Lametti had already paused the expansion last year until March 2024. Any further delay needs to have accompanying legislation.

Most provinces and territories are asking for an indefinite pause to the expansion.

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge research looking into MAID in rural areas'
Lethbridge research looking into MAID in rural areas

Health and mental health ministers from all three territories and the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and B.C. asked Holland in a letter on Monday to give them more time to collaborate.

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Ministers from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island say they feel more prepared for the changes but signed on to support their colleagues.

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“I have talked to I talked to all 13 [provinces and territories], and I can tell you that all 13 have expressed to me that their system isn’t ready,” Holland said on calls for a pause extension.

When pressed further on the timing, the health minister once again said he could not share details until the legislation is tabled in the House of Commons.

Click to play video: 'Deadline looms for expansion to medical assistance in dying program'
Deadline looms for expansion to medical assistance in dying program

Conservative MPs and senators on the parliamentary committee that urged the delay on Monday said in a dissenting report that it would be “reckless and dangerous” for the Liberal government to allow the scheduled change to take place in March.

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They are asking the Liberals to abandon the expansion altogether.

Ultimately, it is up to provincial health systems to deliver MAiD, and Holland says the lack of readiness for the planned expansion is the sole reason for this delay.

He says some provinces are opposed for ideological reasons, but will ultimately have to get ready eventually.

“Now, some of [the provinces] are, ideological on this issue. Absolutely. Some of… their position is that they don’t ever want this to occur, and I understand that but that is not, in my view, a tenable position,” Holland said.

“I think that the, there’s very clear that mental suffering and physical suffering have equivalency. The question here is a state of readiness.”

— with files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Sean Boynton.

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