Canada is set to join Belgium and the Netherlands as one of the world’s most liberal countries for assisted suicide. After March 17, 2023, Canada will allow medical assistance in dying (MAiD) for individuals whose sole underlying medical condition is mental illness.
In March 2021, Bill C-7 was passed as an amendment to the Criminal Code striking down the requirement that a person’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable” or “incurable” to access MAiD, expanding access to those living with disabilities and chronic illness. The bill includes a sunset clause that temporarily restricts MAiD access for those with psychiatric disorders for 24 months. Once the bill’s clause expires, it will be legal for practitioners to provide assisted suicide for qualified individuals whose sole underlying medical condition is mental illness.
The continued expansion of MAiD and the issues it surfaces are not without controversy. Many of the concerns flagged following the passage of Bill C-7 are again coming to a head as the sunset clause on mental illness winds down.
Groups vocally opposed call Bill C-7 eugenicist and highlight a lack of existing social supports for impacted individuals. Others argue that limiting access to MAiD based on specific diagnoses does nothing to address core underlying issues; denying groups access to MAiD based on their diagnosis is paternalistic and a violation of charter rights.
Bill C-7 is an amendment to the Criminal Code, not a change in health policy. Provincial health policy, funding and education measures, and the development of specific protocols with regards to implementing these expansions will still need to be fleshed out separately.
On May 13, an expert panel tabled a report on recommended protocols to apply to requests for MAiD by persons who have a mental illness. The report does not address whether those with mental illness should be eligible for MAiD, but issues guidance and protocols. Questions on the inclusion and implementation remain.
Parliament’s Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying continues to hold hearings in the leadup to its own interim report on MAiD and mental illness, which is expected to be tabled this fall. The next meeting of the committee is to be held today (May 25).
We asked a group of experts whether they thought MAiD should be permitted in instances where the sole underlying condition is mental illness and what they think will be important going forward.
‘There has to be more than lip service paid to improve mental-health care, economic and social support for those with mental illness.’
‘Changing access to include mental illnesses is not evidence of a slippery slope – it brings the current legislation in line with the Supreme Court criteria where Canada’s MAiD journey began.’