Update on MAID

Medical assistance in dying has been legal in Canada since 2016. In 2021, Parliament approved expanding the eligibility criteria to include those with a mental disorder as their sole underlying condition. That change was to come into effect in March 2023, but the government paused it for another year in the face of widespread concerns over possible consequences. On Feb 1, 2024, the Government introduced legislation to delay this proposed Medical Assistance in Dying expansion by another 3 years.

The article that follows is a Feb 1, 2024 news release from Health Canada.

Medical assistance in dying (MAID) is a very personal choice and a deeply sensitive topic. In Canada, MAID may be an option for some people who are suffering intolerably due to an eligible medical condition. The Government of Canada recognizes that mental illness can cause the same level of suffering as that of physical illnesses.

Under Canada’s current MAID law, people suffering solely from a mental illness who meet all the eligibility criteria and safeguards would have been eligible for MAID as of March 17, 2024. Important progress has been made to prepare for MAID eligibility for persons whose sole medical condition is a mental illness. However, in its consultations with the provinces, territories, medical professionals, people with lived experience and other stakeholders, the Government of Canada has heard – and agrees – that the health system is not yet ready for this expansion.

That is why today (Feb 1, 2024), the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, who was joined by the Honourable Ya’ara Saks, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, and the Honourable Arif Virani, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced legislation proposing to extend the temporary exclusion of eligibility for MAID for persons suffering solely from a mental illness for three years. This extension would provide more time for provinces and territories to prepare their health care systems, including the development of policies, standards, guidance and additional resources to assess and provide MAID in situations where a person’s sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness. It would also provide practitioners with more time to participate in training and become familiar with available supports, guidelines and standards.

This proposed delay is also in line with the recommendations of the Special Joint Committee on MAID (AMAD) in their report MAID and Mental Disorders: The Road Ahead, which was tabled on January 29, 2024. While recognizing that considerable progress has been made in preparing for the expansion of eligibility for persons suffering solely from a mental illness, AMAD recommended that it not be made available in Canada until the health care system can safely and adequately provide MAID for these cases.

The Government of Canada is also proposing that a joint parliamentary committee undertake a comprehensive review relating to the eligibility for MAID of persons whose sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness, within two years after the Act receives royal assent. This measure would further serve to examine progress made by provinces, territories, and partners, in achieving overall health care system readiness.

The Government of Canada is committed to a measured, thoughtful and compassionate approach to help ensure Canada’s MAID system meets the needs of people in Canada, protects those who may be vulnerable, and supports autonomy and freedom of choice of individuals. We will continue to work with the provinces and territories, medical professionals, people with lived experiences, and other stakeholders to support the safe implementation of MAID, with appropriate safeguards in place, to affirm and protect the inherent and equal value of every person’s life.

Submitted by Margaret Verschuur