Medically-provided euthanasia for mental illness delayed; some want the expansion scrapped altogether

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – The broadening of medically-provided euthanasia / assisted suicide to include those solely suffering from mental illness has officially been delayed by one year to March 17, 2024, though voices are rising to scrap any expansion altogether.

On March 9, the Canadian Senate approved Bill C-39, a piece of legislation crafted by Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti, at third reading.

Mindful that Bill C-39 needed to be passed before March 17, the Senate studied it as a committee of the whole on March 8 to streamline the process. Lametti and Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos were on hand to explain the delay and answer questions from senators.

The federal government wants to put the brakes on expanding what is known as “medical assistance in dying (MAiD)” to the mentally ill for a year after a groundswell of opposition complained things were moving too fast with not enough study done on the issue.

In February, The Catholic Register reported the surge in public opposition to medically-provided death. A poll jointly released by the Angus Reid Institute and the non-partisan think tank Cardus revealed that only 31 per cent of 1,816 surveyed Canadians support this proposed expansion to include those suffering from mental illness. Fifty-one per cent directly oppose this course of action and 18 per cent indicated they are unsure of their stance.

However, the government presently only plans to delay the euthanasia expansion by one year, which saw Lametti challenged by Senator Donald Plett, leader of the official opposition in the upper chamber, as to why the government wants to implement this at all.

Plett questioned Lametti on the federal government’s stated commitment to continuing down this road of expanding medically-provided death, particularly citing a lack of wholesale support from the Canadian medical community.

“Minister, when there is absolutely no professional consensus among experts that this can be done safely, why would your government even consider continuing with this radical expansion?” Plett asked. “Why not listen to the experts and abandon this policy altogether, especially given the consequences of getting this wrong are so dire?”

Lametti told the senator, “I disagree on most counts.”

“First of all, this is a law that is already passed. We’re only temporarily delaying its implementation. It would be extremely disrespectful to both houses of Parliament, but in particular this honoured house, Mr. Plett, to turn around and reverse exactly what it did only two years ago, and the expertise that was shown by committee in this house.”

He also maintained that the committee that provided guidelines for the government ensured “that the only kinds of mental disorders that are eligible for MAiD are those where there is a longstanding path of care with a psychiatrist, and in which all sorts of things have tried and failed.”

Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre has called for a permanent moratorium on expanding medically-provided death to the mentally ill as well. He said the Liberals are ignoring the growing number of experts who say euthanasia expansion is risking the lives of Canada’s most vulnerable.

“Canadians struggling with mental health deserve hope and treatment,” said Poilievre. “Instead of working to provide Canadians with a life worth living the Liberals have given up on the most vulnerable.”

Moira McQueen, the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, wrote that people who oppose assisted suicide must continue pressing their case passionately during this one-year window.

“Those who oppose euthanasia want all relevant legislation to be repealed, including the changes made in 2021,” said McQueen. “Those who see the purported safeguards as inadequate and who fear that people with mental illnesses can neither properly assess the implications of the procedures nor be capable of giving full consent, must continue to press those points in an effort to further postpone procedures or delay them permanently, while calling for repeal. There is currently some momentum in society to do so, and we should make efforts to maintain it. “

Conservative MP Ed Fast introduced Bill C-314 on Feb. 10, which proposes a permanent abandonment of offering euthanasia to the solely mentally ill. Currently Fast’s private member’s proposal is outside the order of precedence so it is unclear when it will undergo second reading debate.