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Coming soon to Canada: Euthanasia for the mentally ill

The country will soon have some of the world’s most permissive assisted suicide laws

Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario franckreporter/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Coming soon to Canada: Euthanasia for the mentally ill

During a yearslong struggle with mental illness, Canadian lawyer and human rights advocate Lia Milousis made multiple suicide attempts. Though her mental health has improved, she now fears that a scheduled expansion to the country’s euthanasia laws will incite others facing similar struggles to apply for euthanasia solely on the grounds of mental illness.

“One of the ongoing concerns I had even after I recovered was, what if there’s a loss in my life that’s too much for me?” she said. “There was this constant fear of the past coming back to haunt me. So to then make it essentially possible for me to have guaranteed access [to euthanasia]—that’s scary.”

On Oct. 18, Canada’s Parliament voted on a bill that would have amended the Criminal Code to block Canada’s existing government-funded euthanasia program, medical assistance in dying, from expanding to include people with mental illness. In a vote of 150-167, the measure failed to pass to the committee stage. But the pro-life measure garnered support from some members of Parliament who traditionally vote with the leading Liberal Party, showing a possible shift in attitudes about euthanasia among Canadian politicians.

The Liberal Party leads a coalition government in Canada with the support of the smaller New Democratic Party and the Green Party. In the Oct. 18 vote over expanding euthanasia to people with mental illness, the two smaller parties broke ranks with the Liberals and voted with Conservatives to block the change. Eight of 144 Liberals also voted with the pro-life bloc.

Ed Fast, Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Abbotsford, British Columbia, introduced the bill in hopes of protecting vulnerable people.

“This is an existential issue for Canadians because it is quite a step to expand Canada’s assisted suicide laws to the most vulnerable in our society, the mentally ill being the most prominent of those,” said Fast.

Canadian lawmakers voted to legalize euthanasia in 2016, allowing people with terminal illnesses with “foreseeable deaths” to access so-called medical assistance in dying. In 2021, the Liberal Party government amended the legislation to make euthanasia accessible for those with disabilities or “grievous and irremediable medical conditions.” The expansion included people with mental illnesses but required a two-year study to ensure the government put in place the “proper safeguards.”

Officials planned to allow euthanasia for people with mental illnesses in March 2023, but the federal government delayed the expansion to March 17, 2024. Liberal Party member and former Justice Minister David Lametti said the extra time would allow provincial and territorial governments to be better equipped to institute the changes. In March, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre said he would repeal the bill if Conservatives win the next election.

Public opinion on the issue might be shifting. A recent study by the nonprofit Angus Reid Institute found that 82 percent of Canadians believe the country should improve mental healthcare before expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness.

Alex Schadenberg, the executive director and international chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said the Oct. 18 vote showed members voting in line with party goals, not their own convictions. “This is a private member’s bill, not a government bill,” he said.

A private member’s bill is proposed legislation introduced by a lawmaker who is not a member of the Cabinet or government, typically addressing issues of individual interest or importance. Canadian legislators have a degree of flexibility when voting on private members’ bills, often treated as conscience votes. Schadenberg said that lawmakers “should have felt free to vote the way they believed” and not with their parties.

Schadenberg said that division between party lines—although small—gives him reason to hope.

“A real divided issue remains, which is important,” he said. “It wasn’t just Conservatives and then everyone else, which was a good sign.”

Alexandra Ellison

Alexandra Ellison is a graduate of World Journalism Institute.

I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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