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In Canada, opposition mounts to Medical Assistance in Dying expansion

Opponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide are pictured in a file photo staging a “die-in” following a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, as the Senate began debate on Bill C-41 to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, which became law in 2016. The Canadian House of Commons passed a bill Feb. 15, 2023, to delay by a year extending eligibility for aid in dying to individuals solely afflicted with a mental illness. (CNS photo/Art Babych)

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By Quinton Amundson

TORONTO (OSV News) — The legislative effort to delay broadening Medical Assistance in Dying (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 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 nonpartisan 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 Canadians surveyed, only 31% support MAiD for those with a mental illness. 51% of participants opposed the notion and 18% (327) responded “not sure/can’t say.”

Rebecca Vachon, health program director at Cardus, a Christian social-thought think tank, 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,” Vachon told The Catholic Register, based in Toronto. “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% threshold in every province save for Quebec (43% oppose, 36% support).

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

Fast, a former minister of international trade in the previous Conservative government, 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%) and the 2021 expansion that removed the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” requirement (61%) remains.

Fast said he would like Canadians to “make their voices heard” by reaching out to their member of Parliament 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 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% 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,” Pennings told the Catholic Register.

“The government should improve safeguards for vulnerable Canadians, make palliative care a universally available health service and improve palliative care training nationally.”

But renewing a culture of life requires enhanced efforts by other societal entities, Pennings underlined. He said the church, in particular, must step up.

“Church communities have been relatively illiterate with the extent MAiD has expanded over the past seven years. It is not an issue that a lot of people are thinking about,” he warned.

Quinton Amundson is a staff writer for The Catholic Register in Toronto.

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