The Liberals acknowledge there are still lingering questions about whether Canada is ready to expand medical assistance in dying (MAiD), despite a looming deadline.
“Let me be clear: in talking with health ministers across the country there have been concerns about readiness,” said Health Minister Mark Holland on Monday.
The federal government is weighing whether to expand MAiD to people whose sole reason for seeking the procedure is a mental disorder.
It has until March 17,2024 to decide whether to allow a sunset clause to kick in, which would widen the eligibility.
Holland was asked about a potential expansion at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Montreal, a strategy session before MPs return to the House of Commons next week.
“There is no question in my mind that equivalency exists between physical and mental suffering, but by the same token we have to make sure our system is ready,” said Holland.
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The federal government postponed an expansion last year, after some of Canada’s top psychiatrists penned an open letter, voicing their opposition.
One of the signatories was chief of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s psychiatry department and University of Toronto professor Sonu Gaind. He also presented to a parliamentary committee studying the issue.
“There remain no meaningful safeguards to prevent vulnerable and marginalized individuals, who could get better, from getting MAiD during periods of despair and suicidality fueled by mental illness,” wrote Gaind in a briefing submitted to the committee last November.
Gaind is urging the federal government to push back the March 17, 2024 deadline.
“I can assure you that Canada simply is not ready to implement MAiD for mental illness,” he added.
But other psychiatrists and legal experts told the committee a further delay would only prolong suffering.
“Robust statutory, monitoring, regulatory, and clinical preparedness has been demonstrated through multiple witnesses and briefs,” said Dalhousie University law professor Jocelyn Downie.
“Political preparedness is not a justification for limiting Charter Rights.”
When asked, Holland would not say how close the Liberal government is to deciding whether to expand or postpone MAiD.
“I think it’s appropriate that we wait to see the conclusion of that committee’s work.”
Its report is expected to be released next week. “We will obviously need to take action immediately after,” added Holland.
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