Two in five Canadians approve the mentally ill accessing assisted suicide

According to an earlier Angus Reid poll, 61% of Canadians support current assisted dying (MAID) legislation. Ottawa permitted anyone with 'a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability' to access the procedure. 42% want the program to include mental illness — up from 31% last year.

Two in five Canadians approve the mentally ill accessing assisted suicide
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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The Trudeau Liberals have yet to sell Canadians on granting assisted suicide to those suffering from mental illness — but support is on the rise.

After Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) became legal in 2016, a Québec court expanded access after it 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. 

According to an earlier Angus Reid poll conducted with Cardus, 61% of Canadians support current MAID legislation. Another three in five (56%) endorsed the first MAID law.

But a recent Leger survey says most Canadians (77%) support the regulations as they are. Only 42% want the program to include people suffering only from mental illness — up from 31%, according to Angus Reid.

On February 2, 2022, Health Minister Mark Holland introduced Bill C-39, delaying the expansion of MAID to Canadians whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder.

Initially, eligible persons could have accessed MAID last March 17, but the federal government extended the temporary exclusion period until March 17, 2024. That too has been delayed.

It remains before the House of Commons as of writing.

On January 29, Conservative and NDP MPs on a special parliamentary committee called for a pause to the planned expansion of eligibility for such cases. The committee, made up of 15 MPs and senators, had to determine whether the health-care system was prepared for the expansion.

They released a report urging Ottawa to park the breaks on expanding assisted-suicide legislation without sufficient provincial and expert consultations.

"Committee concludes that the medical system in Canada is not prepared for medical assistance in dying where mental disorder is the sole underlying medical condition,” the report reads. 

Nearly half (47%) of Leger respondents endorsed pausing the policy in place of more comprehensive consultations. However, 37% disagreed with the delay.

“Two-thirds of Canadians (65%) believe that people suffering from an illness that can affect their cognitive ability should be able to make a request in advance for medical assistance in dying. This proportion is higher among Quebecers (77%) and people aged 55 and over (69%). Albertans are more likely to be against advance requests (22% versus 15% in Canada),” reads the survey. 

Holland ultimately adopted the committee recommendations, marking the second consecutive delay after a previous year-long review. 

At the time, Conservative MP Michael Cooper argued that "Canada isn't ready," pointing to concerns raised by psychiatrists in determining the irreversibility of mental illness or the rationality behind a request for assisted death. "These Liberals have put ideology ahead of evidence-based decision making," he claimed.

NDP MP Alistair MacGregor, a vice-chair of the committee, also criticized the feds for changing the law without proper consultation. 

A testy back and forth ensued Thursday between Cooper and Holland, who questioned his motives behind amending the policy.

“Minister, there are no legislative safeguards,” said Cooper Thursday at the health committee. “Well, you can say that” replied Holland.

“You haven’t cited one. You haven’t cited any,” continued Cooper. “And you haven’t responded to 78% of Ontario psychiatrists who believe that whatever safeguards will be put in place will be insufficient,” he added.

“We’re talking about wrongful deaths when there has been an inappropriate application of MAID.”

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.

Cooper then called Holland “reckless” for placating an “ideological” stance in expanding MAID further, prompting a heated response by the minister. “I reject that totally,” replied Holland.

“You’re playing with people’s lives. It’s absolutely disgraceful,” added Cooper. “No, what’s disgraceful is mischaracterizing my position,” fired back Holland.

“To say any member of Parliament doesn’t care about human life is a disgraceful thing I will not tolerate. For you to come in this committee and make an accusation … that they do not care for the life of another human being is beyond reproach,” the minister testily said.

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