Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General insist the decision to further delay changes to medical assistance in dying (MAID) legislation was not politically motivated and that the federal government hopes provinces will use the extra time to make sure they are prepared.
The federal government announced this week that it will delay the controversial expansion of MAID (to include mental health as the only factor) until 2027, after the next election.
Arif Virani told CTV Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview broadcast Sunday that the government’s approach has always been to find a balance between parliamentarians’ “moral conscience decisions,” ensuring “dignity and autonomy” of patients and have safeguards to protect vulnerable people.
“That’s still our focus,” he said. “Now, the decision that we have made to press pause on this issue, about mental illness as the only condition, was based on what we heard unanimously both from the people who run the health care systems across the country, but also from health professionals who are responsible for delivering MAID.”
“The nurses, doctors and psychiatrists who spoke to us flat out (said) we have to pause to make sure the system is ready, because right now it is not,” he added.
The expanded legislation was due to come into force in March, after being delayed for a year. But several provinces and advocates have been calling on the federal government to postpone the plan indefinitely.
Virani acknowledged that there are people who never want the system to be expanded and others who think it should have been done already.
“And there’s our government response, which is we don’t say yes, right now, we don’t say never, we say yes, in the future, when the system is ready,” he said.
Asked if the decision to delay the expansion of the legislation again was political, Virani said it is “categorically” not the case.
But when asked how the federal government will know the system is ready and whether it can guarantee it will be ready within three years, Virani said a parliamentary committee will later make those assessments.
He said granting an extended three-year track is intended to “incentivize system readiness.”
“We hope that the provinces and territories will take the same approach and work on preparing their system,” the minister said.
Despite opposition to the plan from the province and territories, Virani said they are moving forward with its preparation.
He also said the number of people seeking MAID with mental illness as the only factor is very small, representing less than four percent of the total patients seeking the process.
“It’s a small cohort,” Virani said. “We anticipate that by the time mental illness as the only underlying condition is available in Canada, three years from now there will still be a very small cohort of people who meet the required conditions.”
“But we heard, not once, but twice, from that joint committee of parliamentarians and senators, that among the testimonies they received, the vast majority indicated that the systems are not ready.”