Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Liberal government seeking delay to expanding medically assisted dying program

The Liberal government announced Thursday it will seek to delay the expansion of Canada’s assisted-dying regime to include people whose sole underlying conditions are mental disorders.

Justice Minister David Lametti said during a news conference that the government has heard concerns that the health-care system might not be prepared to handle those complicated cases.

“Some provinces, territories and those working in the health-care system say that more time is needed,” he said.

“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 to address these more complex MAID requests.”

An update to Canada’s medical assistance in dying legislation that passed in spring 2021 included a provision to temporarily exclude those whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder from eligibility.

The provision is set to expire on March 17, 2023.

An expert panel studying the issue has heard concerns from clinicians, researchers and academics who questioned whether the proper safeguards are in place to expand the eligibility criteria without putting people with mental disorders or those living in poverty at risk.

Mental Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said the expert panel determined that the safeguards in place under the current regime are “excellent.”

“I think that there is very clear consensus this would be very rare, that the assessment may be pending over a long period of time, a number of different assessments,” she said.

Lametti said any cases of medically assisted deaths as a result of mental illness will follow a long period of treatment and insisted the federal government has spent millions of dollars on improving mental health care.

“I want to assure Canadians that it isn’t just the case that you can walk off the street and seek MAID if you’re feeling depressed,” he said.

Lametti added that the expert panel’s chair, Dr. Mona Gupta, is among those who feel that clinicians in Canada are ready to handle the expansion.

However, he acknowledged that not everyone is ready, and he has heard from those who “would like a short delay.”

In order to make that happen, the minority government would need to amend the existing legislation. Lametti said he expects there is widespread support for the move from other parties in the House of Commons and among senators.

The government has not said how long the proposed extension would be.

The House of Commons and Senate have adjourned for the holidays and are expected to resume sitting at the end of January.

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