Michael Swan

Opposition mounts to MAiD expansion

  • February 22, 2023

The legislative effort to delay broadening MAiD eligibility to individuals solely afflicted with a mental illness by a year is forging ahead, but there are signs Canadians are not comfortable with moving forward.

Bill C-39 passed the House of Commons on Feb. 15, and one day later it was read for the first time in the Senate chambers. But polling data released jointly by the Angus Reid Institute and the non-partisan think tank Cardus two days before the vote shows Canadians have trepidations about the federal government proceeding with plan to expand access to assisted suicide. 

Among the 1,816 surveyed Canadians, only 31 per cent support MAiD for those with a mental illness. Fifty-one per cent of participants opposed the notion, and 18 per cent (327) responded “not sure/can’t say.”

Rebecca Vachon, health program director at Cardus, characterized these results as a “wake-up call” for Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti. 

“The minister needs to back off from expanding medically assisted suicide to people suffering from mental illness,” said Vachon. “Then the government should work to ensure Canadians can access all mental health and social services they need before even considering the possibility of expansion.”

Provincially, opposition to MAiD breaches the 50-per-cent threshold in every province save for Quebec (43 per cent oppose, 36 per cent support).

Conservative MP Ed Fast considers it “providential” that his private member’s bill C-314, which calls for a permanent abandonment of MAiD for the mentally ill, was read for the first time on Feb. 10, in the midst of rising anti-MAiD momentum. 

Fast said the federal government should closely heed the sentiments of the public. 

“My message to the government is that contrary to the justice minister’s assertions that there is a broad consensus of support in expanding MAiD to the mentally ill, it’s quite the opposite is actually true,” he said. “There is overwhelming opposition, not to MAiD itself, but the expansion of MAiD to vulnerable populations like the mentally ill. There is no consensus to move ahead right now.”

The data from Angus Reid and Cardus proves Fast’s point that support for the original MAiD law in 2016 (56 per cent) and the 2021 expansion that removed the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” requirement (61 per cent) remains. 

Fast said he would like Canadians to “make their voices heard” by reaching out to their MP to state the government “has moved way too far and way too fast.” He cited the recommendations delivered in a report by the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying on Feb. 15, which included making the procedure admissible to minors, as a product of this “way too far and way too fast” kind of thinking. 

“This snowball is picking up steam, and my bill gives the government, parliamentarians and Canadians an opportunity to take a pause, reflect and consider where we are going with MAiD.”

Among concerns people expressed about the future is the growing use of MAiD negatively impacting the strength of Canadian social services and diminishing the quality of palliative care in the future.  

Ray Pennings, co-founder and executive vice-president of Cardus, said the government should address these concerns with action. 

“When 55 per cent of Canadians worry that medically assisted suicide will replace social services — and a significant number fear it will displace palliative care — it means the government has a lot of homework to do,” said Pennings. “The government should improve safeguards for vulnerable Canadians, make palliative care a universally available health service and improve palliative care training nationally.”

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