Conservatives to table bill opposing MAID for the mentally ill

Conservative MP Ed Fast says, 'It is deeply concerning that this government appears to be moving from a culture of life to a culture of death.'

Conservatives to table bill opposing MAID for the mentally ill
The Canadian Press / Justin Tang
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Conservative MP Ed Fast is set to table a private member's bill repealing access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) for those with mental illness.

Fast articulated that the federal government should never have extended MAID to vulnerable people suffering solely from mental illness. He said Ottawa should offer them help, not death.

"Those suffering from mental disorders, including depression, deserve mental health, social support, and counselling. They need to find joy and meaning in life," he said.

Fast disapproved of Ottawa's "deeply concerning" move to embrace a perceived "culture of death."

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre proudly supported Fast's bill and said some people suffer from poor mental health due to the federal government's policies.

"After eight years of Justin Trudeau, everything feels broken, and people feel broken. That's why many are suffering from depression and losing hope," said Poilievre.

"Our job is to turn their hurt back into hope. To treat mental illness problems rather than ending people's lives."

Should the bill die on the floor, Poilievre pledged to introduce legislation that repeals MAID for the mentally ill.

He would not invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect such a law from constitutional challenges as the courts have never deliberated on the mentally ill accessing MAID.

After MAID became legal in 2016, a Quebec court expanded access after judges ruled the "reasonably foreseeable" death clause unconstitutional.

In 2021, Ottawa permitted anyone with "a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability" who is in "an advanced state of irreversible decline" to access MAID — not including the mentally ill.

However, the Senate permitted those with "irremediable" mental illness to access the procedure in a controversial amendment that passed later that year.

Justice Minister David Lametti — who faced pushback for commenting that disabled Canadians couldn't "[commit suicide] themselves" — tabled legislation in 2023 to delay access until March 2024. He lauded the importance of providing the medical community more time to develop adequate guidelines.

In November, Canada's Association of Chairs of Psychiatry must develop high-quality standards of care, doctor training and expert consensus before Canadians apply for a medically assisted death with mental illness as their sole condition.

The law requires an irremediable condition to qualify for MAID. But some psychiatrists say it's difficult to accurately predict who will recover from a mental disorder.

The psychiatric chairs association said experts must agree on "operational" definitions of irremediability for different mental disorders "because these definitions do not currently exist."

A spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government is "still consulting to protect Canadians."

"MAID is a very complex and personal issue. It's never been a partisan issue, and it certainly shouldn't become one," said the spokesperson.

If passed, Fast's bill would return MAID to its form before the Senate intervened in 2021.

Though Canadians support Ottawa's first two versions of the legislation, many expressed concerns about expanding it to mental illness.

According to an Angus Reid poll conducted with Cardus, 61% of Canadians support the current MAID legislation, which permits patients to request treatment under incredibly restrictive circumstances without "foreseeable death."

The poll said 28% did not support any iteration of Canada's MAID law, while 11% remained unsure.

According to the 2021 MAID annual report, the number of Canadians accessing the procedure has steadily increased between 2016 and 2021, totalling 31,664 patients, typically above 70 years of age.

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