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Federal government seeking another pause on planned expansion of medical assistance in dying

Health Minister Mark Holland says the government is seeking another delay to a planned expansion of MAID to cover mental illness. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Health Minister Mark Holland says the government is seeking another delay to a planned expansion of MAID to cover mental illness. (Christinne Muschi/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal government has announced it is seeking another pause on medical assistance in dying (MAID) provisions that would cover those suffering solely from mental illnesses.

This is the second time the government has sought to delay the expansion of MAID since the Superior Court of Quebec struck down the government's original 2016 MAID legislation because it was limited to those whose deaths were "reasonably foreseeable."

Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani made the announcement Monday outside the House of Commons. Holland said Canada's health system is still "not ready" for the MAID expansion.

"The system needs to be ready and we need to get it right," he said. "It's clear from the conversations we've had that the system is not ready and we need more time."

Holland didn't say how long the government is seeking to delay the expansion. He indicated the timeline would be outlined once the government tables new legislation.

New legislation passed in 2021 delayed by two years the extension of MAID to include those who suffer from mental illness. That deadline was later pushed back to March 17 of this year.

A special committee, made up of 15 MPs and senators, was tasked by the federal government last fall with determining whether the health-care system is prepared for the expansion.

After hearing from dozens of witnesses, the committee released a report Monday concluding that Canada is not ready for such an expansion.

The committee questioned whether there are enough trained practitioners, including psychiatrists, to assess patients and administer MAID for those with mental illnesses.

The report said assisted dying for those with mental illnesses should be delayed until the government is "satisfied, based on recommendations from their respective departments and in consultation with their provincial and territorial counterparts and with Indigenous Peoples, that it can be safely and adequately provided."

The government will have to pass new legislation in order to push the deadline back again. Holland said legislation will be tabled "imminently" and Virani said they're aiming to pass it before the deadline.

"We understand the necessity of acting quickly because of the date that is currently prescribed in legislation," Virani said. "We intend on meeting that deadline."