This week, the federal government announced it will pause expanding MAID (medical assistance in dying) to cover Canadians suffering from mental illnesses. The expansion was supposed to take place this March. It is the second time the program has been paused, following a 2016 Superior Court of Quebec decision.
“It’s clear from the conversations we’ve had that the system is not ready and we need more time,” explained Health Minister Mark Holland.
The Toronto Star recently reported that the number of Canadians ending their lives through MAID has “grown at a speed that outpaces every other nation in the world.” In the last couple of years, more citizens have died in Canada using MAID than in any other country on Earth.
In 2022, MAID deaths reached a total of 13,000, which is four percent of all deaths in Canada. It represented a whopping 31 percent increase from the year before. If Canada continues at this rate, next year it will be the world leader in the percentage of deaths due to MAID. Eleven other countries worldwide offer end-of-life treatment.
When MAID was first introduced in Canada in 2016, some experts saw it as a human rights win, claiming it allowed citizens the right to choose how they wished to pass on; letting those who were suffering from physical illnesses die in a dignified way.
Others, including the Canadian Medical Association Journal, have since pointed out just how much our health-care system is saving due to MAID.
Those who support the expansion say people suffering from mental illness deserve to be treated the same under the law as those suffering from physical ailments.
But others say this potential new measure would harm vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Some religious groups are deeply opposed. Critics claim MAID’s growing use is due to a health-care system and social safety net that is failing to serve its citizens. For example, there have been reported instances of veterans being offered the option of ending their lives by Veterans Affairs caseworkers.
This week’s controversial announcement caused quite the stir online. Here are five tweets showing Canadians reacting to the government pausing mental health MAID expansion:
Dr. Sandy Simpson, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and a forensic psychiatry research chair at the University of Toronto, breathed a sigh of relief and called for the expansion to be entirely abandoned.
In fact, government officials from Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C., New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan, along with all three territories are calling for an indefinite pause.
Inclusion Canada, an intellectual disability human rights organization pushed for the pause to become a rejection.
Others were very disappointed with the government’s decision. Dying with Dignity Canada, a charity that describes itself as an organization that advocates for end-of-life rights, tweeted that the decision meant a loss for “individuals who live with longstanding, treatment-resistant mental disorders.”
Last year, the federal government instructed a committee of 15 MPs and senators to determine whether the health-care system was ready for the expansion.
Their resulting report, which informed the government’s decision, said MAID for those with mental illnesses should be delayed until “it can be safely and adequately provided.”
Some on Parliament Hill wished MAID had been expanded. A group of Independent senators, who were part of the report, issued a joint press release stating, “The majority report…stigmatizes individuals with mental disorders, promoting the myth that individuals with mental disorders are incapable of making informed decisions about their end-of-life choices.” Two of the three lawmakers hold medical degrees.
The federal Conservatives want the MAID mental health plans scrapped. Meanwhile, the NDP are calling for more mental health support to be built before it’s introduced.
Interestingly, The Canadian Bar Association, which represents Canada’s lawyers and legal professionals, will be debating this issue of mental illness and MAID at their annual general meeting next week. One resolution seeks for the association to “withdraw” previous statements it made supporting MAID for the mentally ill.
A September 2023 Angus Reid survey shows while a majority (60 percent) of Canadians supported Canada’s previous rules governing MAID, only 28 percent say they support allowing those whose sole condition is mental illness to seek MAID.
As for what’s next, two government sources told Radio-Canada any expansion decision won’t happen before the next federal election.