The Liberal government introduced legislation Thursday that will delay the expansion of assisted dying to include those suffering solely from mental illness to 2027.
Health Minister Mark Holland introduced the legislation and Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters that the delay was needed until Canada's health-care system is ready to implement the expansion.
"Because of the significance of the decision, because of the nature of the consequences of this kind of policy; we have to ensure that we get it right, and we're determined to do just that," Virani said.
"Putting a pause on it for the next three years will ensure the system readiness, which is what the health-care system has indicated," he said.
Holland said the decision to delay the expansion until after the next federal election has nothing to do with electoral politics, but was made to ensure the health-care system is ready. "Election or partisan matters are not important," he said.
Holland said in order to roll out the expansion, he must have confidence that people have been properly trained so the right decisions are made.
"What I specifically heard from my counterparts in provinces and territories is that in order to get to that state, they were going to need a significant amount of time," Holland said.
Committee recommended delay
This is the second time the government has sought to delay the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the Superior Court of Quebec struck down the government's original 2016 legislation because it was limited to those whose deaths were "reasonably foreseeable."
New legislation passed in 2021 delayed by two years the extension of MAID to include those who suffer from mental illness. That deadline was later pushed back to March 17 of this year.
A special committee, made up of 15 MPs and senators, was tasked by the federal government last fall with determining whether the health-care system is prepared for the expansion.
After hearing from dozens of witnesses, the committee released a report Monday concluding that Canada is not ready.
Delay violates Charter: senators
Senators Stan Kutcher, Pamela Wallin and Marie-Françoise Mégie, who jointly wrote one of two dissenting opinions on that report, held a press conference Thursday to urge the government to proceed with expanding MAID.
"We believe that the majority report of the committee, if accepted by the government of Canada, will deprive Canadians with mental disorders of their Charter rights regarding end of life care by discriminating against their right to apply for MAID," Sen. Kutcher said.
Kutchner, the former head of the Psychiatry Department at Dalhousie University, said the report "failed to respect its mandate, it failed to accurately represent the weight of witness testimony and ultimately it failed to uphold the Charter rights of all Canadians."
Sen. Wallin said the government's reversal on MAID is "shocking."
"There has been an about-face on the part of the government on this issue, or perhaps they were disingenuous from the beginning. I don't know how else to put it," she said.
"They led people to believe that MAID was going to continue to be available for people … they created hope for people, and I believe now have dashed it," Wallin added.
Holland said that while he has deep respect for Kutchner and his advocacy, he had no choice but to introduce Thursday's legislation.
"Every single province, every territory, said they're not ready. CAMH [The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] said they're not ready. The Canadian Mental Health Association said they're not ready," Holland said.
"So I appreciate that there are some people that feel that we're ready but when those that are going to be delivering the services … all are universally saying that they're not ready … we have to listen to that."