All major parties in the House of Commons are signaling they will support a Liberal bill that would further delay the expansion of medically assisted dying to people whose sole condition is a mental disorder.
Members of Parliament began debating the bill on Monday, and it is expected to pass quickly, before a mid-March deadline.
An update to assisted dying laws passed in March 2021 included a two-year sunset clause on provisions to expand eligibility to patients who only have mental disorders.
But Justice Minister David Lametti is now seeking a further one-year delay, to do more consultations and better prepare health-care systems to handle the cases of such patients.
If the Liberal bill passes both the House of Commons and Senate in the next month, the system will not change until March 2024. But Lametti will need support from across the aisle in order to pass the legislation that quickly.
The NDP and the Bloc Québécois say they will support the bill. So do the Conservatives.
But the Tories are arguing that the expansion should not happen at all.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper says he is supporting the bill “only because it is better than the alternative” of allowing assisted dying to soon be offered to people whose only condition is a mental disorder.
“What this Liberal government should be doing is abandoning altogether this radical, reckless and dangerous expansion,” Cooper said in the House on Monday.
He said expanding the program “would result in vulnerable persons prematurely ending their lives who could have otherwise gone on to recover and lead a healthy and happy life.” Tories have argued that it is more difficult for doctors to tell when a person’s suffering due to a mental disorder is past the point of treatment.
Another Conservative MP, Ed Fast, introduced a private member’s bill last week that would nix the extension of eligibility altogether. The bill is unlikely to elicit support from other parties, but has garnered approval from socially conservative groups such as the Campaign Life Coalition.
Senators will also need to approve Lametti’s bill delaying the expansion.
It was the Senate that had first proposed expanding medically assisted dying to patients who only have mental illness. During the process that led to the 2021 law, the government approved a Senate amendment after senators argued that denying eligibility to such patients would violate their rights.
Lametti said in the House on Monday that the extension is needed to make sure people accessing a doctor-assisted death for a mental illness are safely assessed.
“We need this extension to ensure that any changes we make are done in a prudent and measured way,” he said.
“This is for a small fraction of individuals who suffer from long-standing mental disorders under the long-standing care of medical professionals who are suffering intolerably and want another option. It’s not about people who are contemplating suicide.”
The delay will also allow time for the government to consider recommendations made by a joint parliamentary committee that has been investigating Canada’s medically assisted dying program, Lametti said.
A report detailing its findings and recommendations is expected to be released this week.