Canada is postponing a plan to offer people suffering from mental illnesses the option of medical assistance in dying, two ministers said Monday.
The announcement by Mark Holland, the health minister, and Arif Virani, the justice minister, came after a special parliamentary committee. review the plan concluded that there are not enough doctors, especially psychiatrists, in the country to evaluate and help patients with mental illnesses who wish to end their lives.
“The system has to be ready and we have to do it right,” Holland told reporters. “It’s clear from the conversations we’ve had that the system is not ready and we need more time.”
Neither minister offered a timetable for the latest extension. After an earlier delay, the expansion was scheduled to take effect on March 17.
Canada already offers medical assistance in dying to terminally and chronically ill people, but plans to expand the program to people with mental illness have divided Canadians.
Some critics say the plan is a consequence of the inability of Canada’s public health care system to provide adequate psychiatric care, which is chronically underfunded and facing demand that exceeds its availability.
Many psychiatrists say the plan would undermine suicide prevention efforts and have expressed fear that patients with complex problems will abandon treatments that can take years to achieve results in favor of medically assisted dying.
Supporters say denying people with mental illness the opportunity to end their suffering through death is a form of discrimination.
Canada introduced medical assistance in dying after its The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that requiring people to face intolerable suffering violates the fundamental rights to liberty and security.
The law was expanded in 2021 after the Quebec Superior Court struck down the government’s original assisted dying law on constitutional grounds because it only applied to people whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable.” .
The 2021 law expanded eligibility to people facing “serious and irremediable” pathologies. Its separate provisions for people with mental illness, which were added to the law by Canada’s unelected Senate, were initially delayed for two years.
Members of the opposition Conservative Party have accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government of promoting a “culture of death.” Some left-wing politicians have also opposed the expansion of psychiatric care and said they want to focus on expanding psychiatric care.
Michael Cooper, a Conservative MP who served on the select committee, said the government should make the postponement indefinite.
“I see no indication that the fundamental issues that are at the heart – or should be at the heart – of suspending this expansion will be resolved,” he said.
Dying with Dignity Canada, a group that advocates for the right to medical assistance in dying, said in a statement that it was “discouraged” by the latest delay.
The health and justice ministers said the new implementation date would be included in soon-to-be-introduced legislation that would formally extend the deadline.
About 13,200 Canadians received assisted dying last year, an increase of 31% compared to 2021, according to a report from the federal Department of Health. About 3.5 percent of these patients were not terminally ill but had other qualifying medical conditions.
Canada and the United States have a three-digit suicide and crisis hotline: 988. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 and visit 988.ca (Canada) or 988lifeline.org (United States) for a list of additional resources. This service provides bilingual crisis assistance in each country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.