The Liberal government is delaying the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) for people solely suffering from a mental illness until 2027.
Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani made the announcement on Thursday morning, while discussing new legislation to formalize the delay. Holland says all of his provincial and territorial counterparts have told him their health system is not ready for the expansion.
“By setting out a timeline of three years, it’s an indication that the systems need to move towards readiness in two years. There’s the opportunity to do another review, and to assess the readiness of the system through a parliamentary process,” Holland said Thursday.
This legislation includes a provision for a parliamentary review of readiness for the expansion in 2026.
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. This is in agreement with a report published by a joint-parliamentary committee that was released the same day.
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.
Following Monday’s announcement, most provinces and all the territories health ministers sent a joint letter to Holland calling for an indefinite pause to the expansion.
Holland maintains that the expansion of MAiD to people suffering solely from mental health issues will only go ahead once provincial and territorial health systems are ready.
Virani says that while health care is delivered provincially, MAiD legislation deals with the Criminal Code of Canada so any expansion cannot be done on a province-by-province basis.
“We don’t carve out exceptions on a province by province basis. So it’s very important, as you’ve seen all along, since 2016, as we’ve implemented MAiD, as we expanded, made, it has been nationally, not province by province. That’s very important,” Virani said.
Just before Holland and Virani announced further three year pause, Senators Pamela Wallin, Stan Kutcher and Marie-Françoise Mégie held a press conference to discuss their opposition to the delay extension.
“In our opinion, this is fundamentally a Charter issue. All Canadians, regardless of where they live, who they love, what illness they have, have the same rights. And this goes for people with a mental disorder,” Kutcher said.
“To discriminate against a group of people in terms of their wish to be assessed for MAiD just does not follow the Charter. So the question here is, are, is the government willing to stand up and to follow the Charter rights?”
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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.
They are asking the Liberals to abandon the expansion altogether.
Holland and Virani say that the expansion will happen, but they need to allow time for health care providers be receive proper training on how to handle these sensitive cases. Virani said they are committed to striking a “delicate balance.”
“That is, how do you empower autonomy and dignity on the part of an individual, and at the same time, ensure that vulnerable people are protected,” Virani said.
“It is on the protections of the vulnerable that we need to ensure that those safeguards are in place, safeguards are understood and are ready to be implemented by health care system. That’s why we’re having to pause.”
With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Sean Boynton.