Home Politics Provinces ask Ottawa for indefinite pause on expansion of assisted dying eligibility

Provinces ask Ottawa for indefinite pause on expansion of assisted dying eligibility

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Most provinces and territories are asking the federal government to “indefinitely” hold off on a controversial plan to expand eligibility for assisted dying.

The Liberal government is facing pressure to explain what such a delay could look like. Eligibility for assisted death was due to be expanded to those who only have a mental illness in mid-March.

Health and mental-health ministers from all three territories, along with Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia, are prodding their federal counterparts for more time.

A parliamentary committee urged much the same in its final report Monday, warning that the health system is not ready to allow medical assistance in dying for people whose only condition is a mental illness.

The committee, which heard from 21 expert witnesses and received hundreds more briefs, concluded it heard “significant testimony” indicating the system was not ready.

It found that critical questions remained unanswered, such as how to tell if patients requesting an assisted death are suicidal or whether it is possible for them to get better.

There’s simply too much work to be done, provincial and territorial ministers warned in a letter to Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani.

“It is critical that all jurisdictions, health authorities, regulators and practitioners have sufficient time to implement these safeguards and to address capacity concerns that are expected to result from the expansion,” the letter read.

“We encourage you … to indefinitely pause the implementation of the expanded (medical assistance in dying) eligibility criteria to enable further collaboration between provinces, territories, and the federal government.”

Ministers from Nova Scotia and P.E.I. said their provinces are better prepared for the changes. They still signed on to support their colleagues.

Reacting to the committee report on Monday, both Holland and Virani said they agreed with its conclusions and the system needs more time.

But just how much is still in question, and ministers are staying mum until new legislation is tabled.

The federal Conservatives are calling on the Liberals to cancel plans for the expansion altogether. The New Democrats want to see more mental-health supports in place first.

NDP MP Alistair MacGregor, who sat on the parliamentary committee that probed the issue, says while New Democrats haven’t seen what the Liberals are proposing for a delay, he would be “hesitant” to attach a timeline to it.

The Liberals already legislated a one-year delay to the expansion last year and that “obviously wasn’t enough,” he said.

MacGregor said Holland must listen to the call for an indefinite pause coming from provinces, since they are ultimately responsible for overseeing its system.

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