The Hamilton Spectator

Assisted dying eligibilit­y up in the air

Using mental illness as basis for death may have to wait till after next federal election, Liberals say


Adults who want to use mental illness as the sole basis for an assisted death will likely have to wait at least another three years, the Liberal government said Thursday.

Health Minister Mark Holland introduced legislatio­n that, if passed, would postpone the government’s plan to expand the medical assistance in dying program until March 2027.

It would be the second such delay for the expansion, after Liberals added a year to the timeline just before the change was supposed to take effect last March.

Now, the next implementa­tion date is being pushed well past the next federal election, which must happen no later than the fall of 2025.

Should he form the next government, Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre has pledged to scrap the expansion altogether.

Almost three years have passed since the Liberals first passed a law that removed the exclusion of mental disorders as an acceptable basis for an assisted death.

But Holland said the country is still not prepared.

“This is extremely challengin­g. This is enormously sensitive,” he said.

Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani said they agreed with a special parliament­ary committee when it concluded Canada was not ready to change the rules.

Doubts persist about the number of suitably trained medical profession­als in the country, as well as how clinicians would distinguis­h temporary suicidal ideation from an untreatabl­e mental disorder, or know whether someone with a condition is likely to improve.

Holland said every province and territory had misgivings, and the government decided on a threeyear delay in order to provide them extra time.

Nearly all of them had asked the government to impose an indefinite pause, but Holland called that a non-starter because it would remove any incentive to get ready at all. “There has to be an imperative to move towards a condition that recognizes the equivalenc­y between mental and physical suffering,” he said.

Canada could also open itself up to a legal challenge if it doesn’t expand eligibilit­y, Holland added.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 that adults with a “grievous and irremediab­le medical condition” have the right to an assisted death, which led the Liberal government to introduce its initial law in 2016.

Legislatio­n has been introduced that would postpone expanding the medical assistance dying program until March 2027

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