Parliamentary Committee Agrees Canada ‘Not Ready’ to Euthanize the Mentally Ill
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At this time last year, we were worried about the impending expansion of euthanasia to people with mental illness. Thankfully, Bill C-39 was introduced by the federal government at the beginning of February 2023 to delay that expansion until March 17, 2024.
Over the past year, we continued to advocate for caring for, not killing, people with mental illness. We supported Bill C-314, which sought to cancel the pending expansion of euthanasia to those with mental illness. Bill C-314 failed by a small margin at 2nd reading, but the amount of support the bill received, including from some Liberal MPs, sent a message to the government that this was something they needed to reconsider. Immediately following the defeat of Bill C-314, Parliament re-convened the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying to review Canada’s level of preparedness for expanding euthanasia. The Committee heard from 21 in-person witnesses, and reportedly received nearly 900 briefs.
Earlier this week, a majority of the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying recommended that the government once again delay the expansion of euthanasia to people with mental illness. The report clearly states that “the medical system in Canada is not prepared for [MAID for mental illness].” This time, instead of a delay of just one or even two years, the committee recommends an indefinite delay, until the Ministers of Health and Justice are satisfied “that it can be safely and adequately provided.” Once the Ministers determine that it is time to implement the expansion, the Committee would be re-established one year in advance of the expansion.
This is a stronger recommendation than we expected, and we praise God for that. Since Bill C-7 in 2021, the government has seemed ideologically committed to allowing euthanasia for mental illness. Various committees and panels that studied the issue seemed to have made the conclusion to expand before really working through the issues.
But Canadians pushed back. You wrote emails, delivered flyers, sent submissions to the committee, and promoted a message of caring, not killing. We’ve also seen a lot more media coverage of the issue, with multiple news outlets criticizing the government’s approach. Now, excluding four Senators, every committee member agreed that Canada is not ready to offer euthanasia for mental illness. Following the Committee’s report, seven provinces and three territories wrote to the federal government asking for an indefinite pause to the expansion.
When there is any unresolved disagreement among committee members, committees will table a majority report as well as various supplementary or dissenting reports. The majority report, in this case, was agreed to by the five Liberal MPs and one NDP MP on the Committee. Three Conservative MPs and one Conservative Senator wrote a supplemental report. They go further than calling for an indefinite delay, urging the government to “permanently abandon this expansion of MAID. Failing to do so will inevitably lead to the premature deaths of vulnerable Canadians who could have gotten better.” While we are thankful for the majority’s recommendation, we are pleased to also see the Conservatives take this stronger stance. Commentator Chris Selley put it well in a recent National Post article, “’Not ready’ aren’t the words Canadians politicians are looking for. ‘Not ever’ are the words.”
Still, some Parliamentarians continue to push for expanding euthanasia. Four Senators on the Committee wrote two different dissenting reports. One of these Senators recommends that the government ask the Supreme Court about whether extending the delay would be constitutional. The other three ask the government to reject the majority report. They argue that setting an especially high bar for preparedness when it comes to euthanizing the mentally ill reflects stigma and discrimination towards them.
Committee recommendations are not binding on the federal government. The government, however, will have to table an official response to the report. Health Minister Mark Holland has already commented on the report, stating, “We agree with the conclusion that the committee has come to that the system is, at this time, not ready and more time is required.”
This suggests the government is prepared to act prior to the March 17 deadline. They face a tight timeline to pass legislation through both the House of Commons and the Senate. The Minister of Health says that legislation will be tabled imminently.
In the meantime, we can continue to encourage the government to put a full stop to this expansion, rather than delaying it again. The government should be saying ‘not ever’ rather than ‘not ready.’ But we can also thank God for moving the hearts of our leaders to be increasingly uncomfortable with expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness.