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MAID: Abbotsford MP's bill to remove mental health provisions fails

Abbotsford News - 10/20/2023

A bill has been defeated in the House of Commons that would have kept some people suffering from mental illness from obtaining medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Conservative Abbotsford MP Ed Fast put forward the private member's bill, Bill C-314, with the support of a petition and several other members of parliament.

But in the end, it wasn't enough to push the bill through, with a 167-150 vote in the second reading Wednesday.

"Canadians don't understand people are being euthanized for mental illness when in fact it's not even legal," Fast told the Abbotsford News Thursday.

He said there are more and more reports coming out of people being offered medical assistance in dying while suffering from various mental illnesses.

"Abuses of Canada's MAID laws are happening right now across the country," he said, and that it's being offered to people who should not and could not qualify.

That would include Donna Duncan from Mission, who was given MAID to end her life two years ago at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

"She had mental health challenges, and wasn't being supported," Fast said, and she's not alone.

He said there are veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress who are being asked if they've considered MAID, as well as people living with drug addiction.

There are Canadians living in extreme poverty inquiring about it at food banks, as a way to escape their problems.

Fast said his bill was created with a very "narrow scope" as to not change the country's current MAID availability in any way. Instead, he hopes to see an amendment to the Criminal Code, "to provide that a mental disorder is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition for which a person could receive medical assistance in dying."

Canadians with serious mental health challenges are not getting the support they need or deserve, Fast said. There is a more recent story of a 37-year-old woman who went to Vancouver General Hospital and was offered MAID instead of a bed and support.

"It's not even legal right now," Fast said.

The federal government is planning to change MAID eligibility to include people whose sole medical condition is mental illness as of March 27. That timeline was pushed back from an earlier date to allow a better consensus from the medical community.

Fast said that hasn't happened.

The extension was expected to allow time to develop practise standards, among other reasons.

On Feb. 2, 2023, the federal government announced plans to delay MAID eligibility for people whose sole medical condition is mental illness until March 17, 2024. This is a one-year delay from the original timeline. They said that this delay will provide them with more time to develop practice standards and training, and to allow for better data collection and sharing.

Fast and others have been waiting for this year's annual report on the number of Canadians who have accessed MAID, but he said the report is late and they aren't getting clear answers why, or when it can be expected.

The guidelines for MAID include a requirement for the government to release a full report at least once a year. The most recent report available through Statistics Canada is dated Feb. 13, 2023 and is for the year 2021. It is the third such report.

StatsCan found that medically assisted deaths in Canada rose by 35 per cent from 2020 to 2021, a trend since MAID was introduced in 2016. The report does state that the rise in numbers could be attributed to a greater awareness of MAID as an end-of-life option. There has also been an increase in providers.

The report states there were 12,689 written requests for MAID in 2021, 31.3 per cent more than the 9,664 written requests in 2020. This resulted in 10,029 medically assisted deaths in Canada in 2021, an increase of 34.7 per cent from the 7,446 deaths in 2020.

MAID accounted for 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2021, up from 2.4 per cent of all reported deaths in the previous year.

The report also found that nearly four in five written requests resulted in medical assistance in dying.

Of those who did not receive assistance, the majority died in another way. Others did not have the capacity to make the decision, were deemed ineligible, or changed their minds. Many of that group felt palliative care measures were sufficient.

Fast and others aren't sure that people who are suffering severe mental illness should be considered capable of making the decision to use MAID as a life-ending measure.

He said there are many in Canada's medical community who agree. That includes Dr. Sonu Gaind, Dr. Trudo Lemmens, Dr. John Maher and Dr. Ramona Coelho.

They co-authored a report called The Realities of Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, published this year by Cambridge.

It found that MAID "is lacking the safeguards, data collection, and oversight necessary to protect Canadians against premature death."

Fast said his bill received support from NDP members, but that the majority of Liberal MPs and the Bloc voted against it.

Despite the bill being voted down, all parties agreed that the special joint committee needs to provide more information to the government before next March.

The issue will remain with that committee for now, but Fast said that if the Conservatives are elected, they plan to rescind the mental health provisions under MAID.