The Canadian federal government has announced a delay to the expansion of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) that would “allow” those with mental illness to pursue assisted suicide. Rather than being prompted by bioethical, moral, or religious concerns, however, lawmakers noted that they simply need more time to prepare the framework and medical personnel to sustain such an expansion.
CBC reports that the announcement was made by Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani outside the House of Commons. Holland explained that Canada’s healthcare system is simply “not ready” for the MAiD expansion.
He said the timeline for the delay would be decided when the government brings the new legislation to table.
The decision to delay the expansion of MAiD was the conclusion of a panel of 15 Canadian MPs and Senators, formed to determine the viability of such a move in the Canadian healthcare system’s current form. After hearing testimonies from dozens of witnesses and experts, they determined that Canada is not prepared to expand MAiD at this time.
In 2021, legislators voted to expand MAiD to include those suffering from mental illness, but it was delayed for two years, originally scheduled to go into effect in March 2024. The new delay could be in place for some time, as there are many aspects that they would want to address before the expansion can go forward.
The committee’s report suggested that the delay must be held until the government is “satisfied, based on recommendations from their respective departments and in consultation with their provincial and territorial counterparts and with Indigenous Peoples, that it can be safely and adequately provided.”
Furthermore, Holland noted several areas that needed to be strengthened in Canada’s healthcare system, including a bolstering of the ranks of its trained psychiatric professionals. There are, however, concerns about the criteria that would allow those with mental illness to qualify for MAiD.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper went as far as to call for an indefinite pause to the proposed expansion, on the grounds that psychiatrists would find it difficult or even impossible to decide if a mental illness is beyond treatment. At least one mental health professional testified as much to the committee.
The Canadian government must now pass new legislation before the expansion would go into effect in March. Holland said that it was among their top priorities to pass a new bill before the deadline passes.