February 22nd, 2024

Ottawa to wait until after next federal election to expand assisted dying eligibility

By Stephanie Taylor and Laura Osman, The Canadian Press on February 1, 2024.

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland makes an announcement in Calgary on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

OTTAWA – The Liberal government is legislating a three-year delay to its its controversial plan to expand eligibility for assisted dying to include those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness.

Health Minister Mark Holland introduced legislation Thursday morning that would postpone the change until March 17, 2027, just over six weeks before the expansion was scheduled to take effect.

Both Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani say they agree with a parliamentary committee’s conclusion that Canada simply wasn’t ready.

The committee of MPs and senators reported earlier this week that questions remain about how clinicians could differentiate between someone experiencing suicidal thoughts and requesting an assisted death.

The bill calls for another joint committee to study the issue again within the next two years. If the committee has any changes to recommend, it must table a report before both houses of Parliament.

Holland said the delay is the result of his most recent meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts in October, where he heard they were not prepared to move forward.

“In order to get to that state, they were going to need a significant amount of time,” Holland said at a press conference outside the House of Commons on Thursday.

Nearly all provinces and territories asked the federal government for an “indefinite pause” on the expansion in a letter this week, following the release of the committee report.

Holland said he’s already spoken with his provincial counterparts about the plan.

“Their response was very favourable,” he said. “They really do feel that they need more time.”

Parliament must move quickly to pass the new bill before the expansion automatically takes effect on March 17.

Holland said he set the new three-year deadline instead of creating an indefinite delay because there must be an imperative to move forward, or else it might not happen at all.

“It’s an indication that the systems need to move toward readiness,” Holland said.

The Opposition Conservatives have been demanding that the government scrap the expansion altogether, but have said they would still support a delay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.

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