Canada delays euthanasia for mentally ill after facing criticism

Facing backlash from several quarters, the Canadian government has decided to delay expanding euthanasia or medically assisted death facility to people with mental illness. 

Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti last week acknowledged that the government was listening and that more time was required to get the proposal right. 

“We are listening to what we are hearing and being responsive, to make sure we move forward in a prudent way. We know we need to get this right in order to protect those who are vulnerable and also to support an individual’s autonomy and freedom of choice.”

Earlier, the government had kept plans to broaden euthanasia under the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) legislation, starting mid-March next year.  

The critics of the law argue that the Canadian healthcare system is not prepared enough to handle complicated mental illness cases. Expediting the facility to all could have had far-reaching and in some cases, devastating consequences. 

A petition filed by the Society of Canadian Psychiatry, a national voluntary professional association with 4,700 psychiatrists on the roster has urged the government to delay the expansion of MAiD until 2024. 

Meanwhile, the supporters have called the ‘delay’, a discriminatory step for mentally challenged individuals and that it promotes stigmatisation. 

The law, which first came into being in 2016 only allowed patients with terminal illness to have the access to the procedure. 

However, after criticism and court cases, in 2019, a Quebec judge ordered that the law, deemed unconstitutional at the time also allow adults who didn’t have a reasonably foreseeable death to have the opportunity to avail the procedure. 

As a result, ‘Bill C-7’ was passed in March last year which reflected the judge’s concerns. However, the legislators imposed a two-year ban on patients with mental illness receiving assisted death. A study was ordered to understand the complex situation which will end in March next year. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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