The Canadian government has introduced legislation to delay by one year plans to include mental illness among the list of conditions eligible for the country’s assisted suicide program.
The assisted suicide law — which is euphemistically coined Medical Assistance in Dying — excludes Canadians from eligibility whose only medical condition is mental illness.
In 2021 lawmakers excluded mental illness for a two-year period to allow “additional time to study how MAID on the basis of a mental illness can safely be provided and to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect those persons,” according to the Canadian Justice Department’s website.
With the end of that two-year ban quickly approaching, Minister of Justice David Lametti has introduced legislation to keep the exclusion in place for another year, until March 17, 2024.
In a Feb. 2 interview with Cable Public Affairs Channel, Lametti said that “the delay is not a hesitation to include [the mentally ill]. It is more a recognition of the complexity of it. And the fact that I think more people, more experts, more practitioners, as well as Canadians generally need to internalize the standards that are going to be there.”
Two conservative members of Parliament, Michael Cooper for St. Albert-Edmonton and Rob Moore for Fundy Royal, responded to Lametti’s proposed legislation in a co-written statement, saying: “This last-minute delay is indicative of the Liberal [party]’s reckless and rushed approach to expanding medically assisted dying to more vulnerable Canadians.”
“Experts have been clear that MAID for mental illness cannot be implemented safely. It is impossible to determine irremediability in individual cases of mental illness. MAID for mental illness will also create clinical challenges, blurring the line between suicide assistance and suicide prevention.”
“A delay is not enough,” the MPs wrote. “Conservatives are calling on the Liberal government to withdraw this dangerous expansion.”
Assisted suicide in Canada was legalized in 2016, and according to the government’s annual report on the program, in 2021, 10,064 people died as a result, which accounted for more than 3% of deaths in the North American country.
Among the eligibility requirements to qualify for assisted suicide are: being 18 years of age; must have a serious and incurable illness, must be “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability”; and must have “enduring and intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated under conditions the person considers acceptable.”
Each year since its legalization, every Canadian province has seen a rise in assisted suicide.
Since its legalization, almost 32,000 deaths have occurred through assisted suicide.
For those receiving assistance in suicide in 2021, 65.6% cited cancer as an underlying medical condition. Almost 19% cited cardiovascular conditions, with 12.4% citing chronic respiratory conditions. More than 12% cited neurological conditions. According to the report, 75% of the recipients cited one main underlying medical condition. The rest cited two or more.