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Government seeking delay to MAID expansion that would cover mental illness

Mental illness was set to be covered by medically-assisted dying laws in March

The federal government is seeking to delay an expansion of its medical assistance in dying (MAID) law, which was set to include those suffering solely from mental illnesses starting in March.

Justice Minister David Lametti and Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said Thursday they’ll present legislation in the House of Commons to extend that deadline.

Lametti said the extension would give the government more time to set up standards for assisted-dying requests from individuals whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness, and would give provinces and medical professionals time to get ready for the change.

“We want to be prudent, we want to move in a step–by-step way so that we don’t make mistakes.” Lametti said. He did not indicate what the new deadline would be.

The government originally passed MAID legislation in 2016, but the Superior Court of Quebec struck it down in 2019 because it was limited to those whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable.”

Bill C-7, which passed in March 2021, removed that requirement, in line with the court’s ruling.

The government originally intended to impose a blanket ban in that legislation on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illness.

But under pressure from senators who believed the exclusion was unconstitutional, it subsequently put a two-year time limit on that ban — which was set to expire this coming March.

The government will have a short time frame to work with to extend the deadline. The House of Commons rose for a six-week winter break on Wednesday and won’t be returning until late January.

Lametti said he’s confident that the legislation will pass in time, given that the only change to the current law is to the deadline.

“We have begun to have discussions informally,” he said. “We do think there is widespread support.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper told CBC he supports the decision to delay the expansion, adding it was “the only responsible course of action” for the government to take. But he criticized the Liberals for not seeking the delay sooner.

“The Liberals insisted up until now — at the 11th hour — that they were going ahead and it speaks to the reckless and ideological approach the government has been taking to this issue,” Cooper said.

NDP MP Alistair McGregor also said that while seeking a delay is the right thing to do, the Liberals are at fault for not introducing proper supports in order to meet the deadline.

“It’s clear that the framework of who can access MAID is not ready yet due to the government dragging their feet on getting it right,” McGregor said in a media statement.

The advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada said it was “disappointed” by the government’s decision to seek an extension.

“The current exclusion of those with a mental disorder from end-of-life choice is stigmatizing, discriminatory and unconstitutional,” a media statement from the organization said. “We must avoid creating barriers that will prolong grievous suffering.”

Backlash after veterans offered MAID

The government has taken heavy criticism in recent months after it was revealed that a number of Canadian military veterans were offered medically-assisted death by a federal employee.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay told a House of Commons committee last month that a now-suspended Veterans Affairs caseworker proposed the option to as many as four veterans.

MacAulay said the matter would be turned over to the RCMP for investigation and that Veteran Affairs would conduct its own internal review.

“We expect all Veterans Affairs candidate employees to interact with veterans with care, compassion and respect and the action of this one employee is simply disgusting,” MacAulay said during last month’s committee appearance. “And I condemn this behaviour in the strongest terms.”

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