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Canada not ready to expand assisted dying, health minister says

Deadline to add those whose only medical condition is a mental illness fast approaching
Federal Health Minister Mark Holland listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference, Tuesday, December 12, 2023 in Ottawa. Some lawyers are pushing their national advocacy organization to withdraw its support of expanding medical assistance in dying to those suffering solely from a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The country is not ready to expand eligibility for assisted death to people whose only medical condition is a mental illness, Health Minister Mark Holland said Monday.

He said the Liberal government agrees with the conclusion of a joint parliamentary committee report released Monday, and more time is needed before it can happen.

Justice Minister Arif Virani said the government is very aware of the coming deadline, with the expansion set to take effect in March, and will have a plan in place.

But neither minister would clearly articulate what they plan to do to address the concerns.

Legislation is required to change the timeline. The Liberals already legislated a one-year delay last year, saying at the time that medical providers and provinces needed more time to prepare.

“The legislative time frame is tight. We recognize that. This has to be done in advance of (March 17),” Holland said.

“I don’t see the timeline being a barrier but we do need to move expeditiously.”

The joint committee’s final report, tabled just moments before Holland and Virani appeared on Parliament Hill, concluded that fundamental issues around the expansion have not yet been resolved.

It said that it heard “conflicting testimony” and that a year before any expansion does take place, the committee should be struck again to delve into whether enough progress has been made.

Conservative MPs and senators on the committee said in a dissenting report that it would be “reckless and dangerous” for the Liberal government to allow the scheduled change to take place in March.

They are asking the Liberals to abandon the expansion altogether.

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