The federal government has introduced legislation that seeks to delay the planned expansion of Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) laws by one year.
Current laws dictating who is eligible to receive MAiD are set to expand on March 17, allowing patients whose sole medical condition is mental illnesses to apply for assisted suicide.
Bill C-39, introduced in the House on Feb. 2, seeks to delay that expansion until March 17, 2024, in order to “ensure the safe provision” of MAiD for patients suffering from mental illnesses “by allowing more time for the dissemination and uptake of key resources by the medical and nursing communities to ensure healthcare system preparedness.”
The bill is also intended to give the federal government more time to consider recommendations made by the Special Joint Parliamentary Committee on MAiD.
If the bill fails to pass the House before March 17, MAiD eligibility expansion will go forward on that day as previously planned.
“It is clear that more time is needed to get this right,” said Justice Minister David Lametti during a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 2, adding that the proposed one-year eligibility expansion delay “is necessary to ensure that we move forward on this sensitive and complex issue in a prudent and measured way.”
“We all know that MAiD is very complex and it’s very personal, so it’s not surprising that there is a lot of debate.”
Lametti told reporters that he is confident C-39 will pass the House before March 17, saying he believes it has the support of both the NDP and Bloc Québécois.
He added that Conservative MPs have previously questioned him during committee appearances about such an extension and said he will “take them at their word.”
“I hope that they will support this extension given that they so vocally supported one at the end of last year,” Lametti said.
Lametti also said he’s “extremely confident” that a one-year delay will be enough time to address all concerns surrounding the MAiD eligibility expansion.
Asked by reporters if he would be open to possible amendments to Bill C-39 that would attempt to modify Canada’s MAiD laws, Lametti said he’s “going to be less open” to proposed amendments on this bill than others.
“Obviously, I never rule out any possibility as a legislator, but this one is about this deadline,” he said.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett, who also took reporters’ questions during the Feb. 2 press conference, acknowledged concerns that expanding eligibility requirements for MAiD could lead to individuals applying for it because of suicidal ideation.
“You have to separate suicidal ideation from wanting to access MAiD for a mental condition,” Bennett said, arguing that expanding eligibility is not the same as giving people “access to suicide.”
“Suicidal ideation is actually part of the criteria that these [MAiD] assessors deal with.”