By Matthew Horwood October 23, 2023
Canada is forging ahead with its plan to make it legal for those suffering from mental illness to seek help in ending their lives.
The move comes after the failure of a private member’s bill that sought to block Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) from being made available as of March 17, 2024, to those suffering solely from mental illness.
Conservative MP Ed Fast’s Bill C-314 was defeated during its second reading in the House on Oct. 18 by a 167-150 vote. The bill would have prevented the expansion of the nation’s current euthanasia program.
What is MAID?
Parliament passed legislation in 2016 allowing eligible Canadian adults to request medical assistance in dying. The legislation was introduced in order to bring the Criminal Code into compliance with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. At that point, the procedure applied only to the terminally ill.
Then in March 2020, the House of Commons passed Bill C-7, which amended the Criminal Code to allow MAID for Canadians whose natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable.” That bill included several safety guards, such as a minimum 90-day assessment period, a second eligibility assessment by a practitioner with expertise in the condition causing the person’s suffering, and two clarifications of informed consent.
According to a Statistics Canada report from February 2023, MAID deaths in Canada rose by 35 percent from 2020 to 2021, with 10,029 deaths in 2021 compared to 7,446 the year prior. A total of 3.3 percent of all deaths in Canada in 2021 were from medically assisted suicide, up from 2.4 percent in 2020.
Since MAID’s expansion, several reports have surfaced on Canadian Armed Forces veterans alleging they were offered the procedure without asking for it. In December 2022, veteran and former Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who had been trying to get a wheelchair ramp installed in her home, told a parliamentary committee that she was offered the procedure by a Veterans Affairs employee.
Expansion of MAID
On Dec. 15, 2022, the federal government announced it would introduce legislation to seek an extension of the temporary exclusion of eligibility for persons suffering solely from mental illness. Bill C-39 became law on March 9, 2023, postponing the eligibility of people with mental health conditions seeking MAID until March 17, 2024.
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But in February 2023, then-Justice Minister David Lametti announced the government would delay MAID’s expansion by one year to “ensure that we move forward on this sensitive and complex issue in a prudent and measured way.”
The extension will allow additional time to complete and circulate resources regarding MAID requests to clinicians and other health-care system partners, as well as provide more time to consider the parliamentary Special Joint Committee on MAID’s interim and final reports.
In an attempt to stop the expansion of MAID, Mr. Fast introduced Bill C-314, which would have amended the Canadian Criminal Code to state that a mental disorder “is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition for which a person could receive medical assistance in dying.”
While every Conservative, New Democrat, and Green Party MP voted in favour of the bill, it was not enough to pass. Every member of the Bloc Quebecois and all but eight Liberals voted against Bill C-314, which was enough to defeat it.
On the same day the bill failed, all parties in the House of Commons agreed to recall the special joint committee on medical assistance in dying to provide further oversight into the issue.