Canada to further delay assisted death based solely on mental illness

By Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -The Canadian government on Monday said people suffering solely from mental illness will remain excluded from pursuing assisted death for an unspecified period after a parliamentary committee concluded the country's healthcare system was not yet ready.

Health Minister Mark Holland, speaking to reporters in Ottawa, said the Liberal government will soon table legislation that would have details such as the length of a delay.

"We agree with the joint committee's conclusion that more time is required and we'll be in a position in the coming days to talk about how much time we believe is required," Health Minister Mark Holland told reporters in Ottawa.

Canada legalized assisted death in 2016 for people with a terminal illness and expanded it in 2021 to people with incurable, but not terminal, conditions. The government however passed legislation to temporarily exclude people whose only underlying condition is a mental illness from accessing assisted death - a provision that was extended by a year in 2023. The exclusion is due to expire on March 17.

"We need more time," Holland said. "Although the curriculum is present, although the guidelines are set, there has not been enough time for people to be trained on them, and provinces and territories are saying their systems are not ready and need more time."

Holland said the March 17 timeline was not a barrier but the government needs to move expeditiously to extend the exclusion again.

Opposition parties had called for an indefinite pause on the inclusion of mental illness cases under Canada's medical assistance in dying (MAID) law saying Canada's healthcare system was not prepared for the expansion, according to CBC News.

Lifting the exclusion for mental illness would make Canada one of only six countries where a person suffering from mental illness alone, and who is not near their natural death, can get a doctor to help them die.

Proponents of assisted death say it is an issue of personal autonomy.

Some psychiatrists say it is impossible to determine whether a mental illness is "irremediable."

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil and additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee in Ottawa; Editing by Mark Porter and Stephen Coates)