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Canada’s government might pause the implementation of euthanasia for mental illness

by | Dec 18, 2023

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Stephanie Taylor reported for the Canadian Press on December 15 that Canada may once again pause the expansion of euthanasia to people with mental illness alone.

When Canada expanded the euthanasia law in March 2021 (Bill C-7), less than five years after legalizing euthanasia, one of the expansions in the law was euthanasia for mental illness alone. At that time the government decided to approve euthanasia for mental illness but it included a two-year moratorium to give the government time to prepare for this expansion.

Earlier this year the government delayed the implementation of euthanasia for mental illness for another year. Canada’s is currently scheduled to permit euthanasia for psychological conditions on March 17, 2024. The result of this decision will be more killing, except that people with psychiatric conditions who will also be abandoned to death. 

Justice Minister Arif Virani stated on Wednesday that the government is considering “hitting the pause button” on euthanasia for mental illness. Taylor reported for the Canadian Press that:

The federal government is considering whether to pause its original plan to broaden the rules that govern medically assisted dying so they include patients whose only underlying condition is a mental disorder.

“We’re weighing our options,” Justice Minister Arif Virani said Wednesday.

It would be the second time the federal Liberals have hit pause on the plan. The first came in February, when the government decided to impose a one-year delay amid widespread public and political concern.

Many organizations that are working to stop Canada from implementing euthanasia for mental illness are applauding the statement by the Justice Minister. 

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is pleased that Virani may hit the “pause button” on euthanasia for mental illness, but Virani has only said that it may happen.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is working on a political lobbying strategy with the hope of convincing the Justice Minister to not only hit the “pause button” but to reverse the government’s plans to permit euthanasia for mental illness.

Taylor, in her Canadian Press report, spoke to the Hon Ed Fast who sponsored bill C-314 that, if passed, would have reversed the government’s implementation of euthanasia for mental illness. Taylor wrote:

Conservative MP Ed Fast sees Virani’s comments as a shift.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen a glimmer of hope come from the Liberal government that they’re prepared to reconsider their decision to move ahead.”

Earlier this year, Fast’s private member’s bill, which would have amended the Criminal Code to expressly prohibit the use of a mental disorder as a basis for choosing medical help to end one’s life, came to a vote in the House of Commons

While it was defeated with the majority of Liberal and Bloc Quebecois MPs opposing it, eight Liberal MPs broke ranks. Twenty-four NDP MPs also voted for the private member’s bill, with none opposed.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition agrees that the Hon Ed Fast did an excellent job of gaining support for Bill C-314 and that led to the government considering the reversal of their position on euthanasia for mental illness.

Taylor further reported that:

Other organizations, like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, note there is no clear medical consensus on what constitutes a “grievous and irremediable” mental illness, or on how to distinguish that from suicidality.

The centre was pleased to hear the government was open to another delay, Dr. Tarek Rajji, who chairs its medical advisory committee, said in a statement.

The Canadian Mental Health Association also released a statement supporting a delay beyond March, saying the recent consultations done by provinces have been “significantly expedited” to meet the current timelines.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition will launch a new campaign in January to convince Members of Parliament that people with mental health concerns should not be abandoned to death by MAiD.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s Blog and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Canada Euthanasia