Paul Tuns

On Dec. 13, it was announced that the Trudeau government may once again delay the expansion of euthanasia to people suffering solely from mental illness.

In March 2021, Parliament passed Bill C-7, which expanded euthanasia to those whose natural death was not reasonably foreseeable as well as to those suffering solely from mental illness. The law’s liberalization of the euthanasia regime took effect one year later except for euthanasia for those with mental illness because the government recognized it would take time to develop protocols to medically murder people whose only criterion would be psychiatrically based.

In the month before euthanasia for mental illness was supposed to take effect in March 2023, the government responded to pressure on horror stories about euthanizing patients for social reasons and the fact that no protocols had been developed and delayed that portion of C-7 from taking effect for an additional year until March 17, 2024.

Justice Minister Arif Virani said the government was “hitting the pause button” for patients whose only underlying condition is a mental disorder. “We’re weighing our options,” said Virani.

Conservative MP Ed Fast (Abbotsford), whose bill C-314 that would have banned euthanasia for mental illness was defeated in October, said “It’s the first time I’ve seen a glimmer of hope come from the Liberal government that they’re prepared to reconsider their decision to move ahead.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, stressed that the government is only considering delaying implementation of so-called Medical Assistance in Dying for those suffering from mental illness. Schadenberg also said that Ed Fast highlighting the issue with bill C-314 and winning broad support for it even in defeat helped pave the way for the reconsideration by the Liberals to push forward on the issue.

Schadenberg told The Interim that “there is no consensus on the topic” within the psychiatric community and that many psychiatrists say “it is not possible to determine that a person with a mental illness has an ‘irremediable medical condition’ as is required in the law.”

Schadenberg also said that polling shows Canadians do not support euthanasia for mental illness and the unpopular Trudeau government may further delay implementation to appear as if they are listening to the public.

He said opponents of euthanasia “should be contacting their member of parliament to express their opposition to euthanasia for mental illness.” Schadenberg said it is particularly vital for Liberal MPs to “know that their constituents oppose euthanasia for mental illness.”

Dr. Tarek Rajji, who chairs its medical advisory committee at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, welcomed the announcement, saying there is no medical consensus on what constitutes a “grievous and irremediable” mental illness or how to distinguish a request for Medical Assistance in Dying from suicidality.

The Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention agreed, saying there is currently no consensus on the definition of irremediability for any mental disorder affecting people who are not dying.

The Canadian Mental Health Association released a statement supporting a delay beyond March saying there needs to be more time for consultations with stakeholders.

The Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers criticized the delay and stated before Virani’s announcement that their members would be ready to commit medicalized murder of patients by March 17. Dr. Konia Trouton, president of CAMAP, said the organization has developed a curriculum for assessors and providers of euthanasia and assisted-suicide, saying that doctors and nurse practitioners who are new to the MAiD regime will get 27 hours of online training, while those already qualified to carry out the lethal practice will get an additional six hours of a training to deal with MAiD for mental illness.

Dr. Jitender Sarren, head of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, told the Canadian Press that he believes a psychiatrist should be involved in any assessment for MAiD for mental illness, but the current CAMAP standards do have that requirement.

Schadenberg said, “euthanasia for mental illness is a clear sign of Canada’s euthanasia law going ‘crazy’” and “what is needed is a total change of direction by a future government.” He warned against complacency saying that unless legislation reversing euthanasia for solely mental illness passes, it will eventually become law despite possible numerous pauses.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is launching a campaign this month to convince MPs that “people with mental health concerns should not be abandoned to death by MAiD.”