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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith opposes assisted dying expansion as Ottawa eyes delay

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's office says the province objects to Ottawa's plan to extend eligibility for medically assisted death to people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness. Smith gives an update in Calgary, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office says the province objects to Ottawa’s plan to extend eligibility for medically assisted death to people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness.

An update to assisted-dying law passed in 2021 included a two-year sunset clause that would see the expansion take effect this March.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti is now seeking further delay because he says there are concerns that health-care systems might not be prepared, and the Liberal government wants to do more consultation.

Smith’s office said it objects to Ottawa moving forward with expanding eligibility for assisted dying “without agreement” from Alberta.

“Given the government of Alberta’s responsibility to deliver health care services and to regulate the health-care profession, we object to the federal government moving forward with expanding … eligibility without agreement from the province,” a statement from Smith’s office said.

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Click to play video: 'Life and death: what the MAID law expansion delay means for medically-assisted death'
Life and death: what the MAID law expansion delay means for medically-assisted death

Her office said the province is consulting with experts about the potential effects that expanding eligibility would have on Alberta’s health-care system.

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Lametti’s office says the courts have “made it clear that MAID is a Charter-protected right” but it is aware of the “concerns expressed by some experts about the need for greater protections of vulnerable people and would like a short delay.”

His office says the Liberal government will work to pass a law to delay the expansion and collaborate with provincial and territorial counterparts so a “strong framework” is available when the expansion does happen.

Alberta appears to be the only province willing to object to the expansion of medical assistance in dying to people whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder.

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Ontario said in a statement the federal government is responsible for determining eligibility criteria and safeguards for medically assisted death.

“Ontario adheres to the requirements as dictated by federal legislation,” said a statement from Hannah Jensen, press secretary for the province’s Health Minister Sylvia Jones.

Click to play video: 'Poilievre worried about ‘slippery slope’ for medical assistance in dying for mental health'
Poilievre worried about ‘slippery slope’ for medical assistance in dying for mental health

Some federal lawmakers have argued that excluding people with mental illness from access to assisted dying would violate their Charter right to equal treatment under the law.

When he announced the government’s intention to delay the expansion, Lametti said he had heard concerns from health-care providers about the system’s ability to handle the “more complex” cases.

“That includes having the time to implement those practice standards, and to complete and disseminate key resources that are being developed for clinicians and other health-care system partners,” he said in December.

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