Euthanasia: Fed seeks to delay expansion

Ottawa –

The Liberal government announced Thursday that it will seek to delay expanding Canada’s euthanasia system to include people whose only underlying medical condition is a mental disorder.

Attorney General David Lametti said at a news conference that the government has heard concerns that the health care system may not be prepared to handle these complex cases.

“Staff in some provinces, territories and health care systems have indicated that more time is needed,” he said.

“This includes time to implement these standards of practice and to complete and disseminate key resources being developed for clinicians and other healthcare system partners to address these more complex MAID requests.”

An update to Canada’s end-of-life Medicaid legislation, passed in the spring of 2021, includes a provision to temporarily exclude from eligibility those whose only underlying medical condition is a mental disorder.

This clause will expire on March 17, 2023.

A panel of experts studying the issue heard concerns from clinicians, researchers and academics who questioned whether there were adequate safeguards to expand eligibility criteria without putting people with mental disorders or those living in poverty at risk.

Mental Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said the panel found the safeguards under the current system “very good”.

“I think there’s a very clear consensus that it’s going to be very rare that assessments are likely to be out for a long time, many different assessments,” she said.

Lametti said any medically assisted death from mental illness would be followed by long-term treatment, insisting the federal government has spent millions of dollars to improve mental health care.

“I want to assure Canadians that if you’re feeling down, you can’t just go out on the street and find a maid,” he said.

Lametti added that panel chair Dr. Mona Gupta is among those who think Canadian clinicians are ready for the expansion.

However, he admitted that not everyone is ready, and he has heard from some who “hope for a slight delay”.

To achieve this goal, a minority government would need to amend existing legislation. Lametti said he expected broad support for the move from other parties in the House of Commons and senators.

The government has not yet stated the length of the proposed extension.

The House of Commons and the Senate, which were recessed for a holiday, are expected to resume at the end of January.

The Canadian Press report was first published on December 15, 2022.

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