canada halts assisted suicide program for mentally ill due to lack of doctors

Canada has delayed the extension of its assisted suicide program to people suffering solely from mental illness, health officials announced Monday. 

Canada offers medically assisted death to terminally and chronically ill people, but the plan to extend the program to people with mental illnesses has divided Canadians, the New York Times reported. Some critics attribute the problem to a lack of adequate psychiatric care in the country.

The controversial policy would allow anyone in Canada with an incurable medical condition to apply for assisted suicide, even if the disease is not terminal, which makes the law one of the most liberal assisted suicide programs in the world. 

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party has been in favor of assisted suicide. (Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada introduced medically assisted dying after its Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that requiring people to cope with intolerable suffering infringed on fundamental rights to liberty and security. The law was expanded in 2021 to include people experiencing “grievous and irremediable” conditions, such as depression and other mental health issues. 

Over 13,000 Canadians were euthanized as part of the program in 2022, the Daily Mail reported

When the program was announced last year, one conservative lawmaker “charged that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promoting a ‘culture of death.’”

“Have we gone too far and too fast with Canada’s assisted suicide program?” Conservative MP Ed Fast said. “Will we evolve into a culture of death as the preferred option for those who suffer from mental illness or will we choose life?”

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A new report from Canadian government health officials revealed that medically-assisted suicide numbers have risen dramatically in the country.  (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

But now, health officials are slow-walking plans to expand the program, stating there are not enough doctors, specifically psychiatrists, in Canada to evaluate mentally ill people who wish to die, according to the announcement made by Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani. This followed a meeting of the special parliamentary committee looking into the plan, the Times reported. 

“The system needs to be ready, and we need to get it right,” Holland told reporters. “It’s clear from the conversations we’ve had that the system is not ready, and we need more time.”

“Although the curriculum is present, although the guidelines are set, there has not been enough time for people to be trained on them, and provinces and territories are saying their systems are not ready and need more time,” he added. 

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Over 13,000 Canadians were euthanized as part of the program to assist in the suicide of citizens.  (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The officials did not provide a timeline for the changes, although the expansion had been previously scheduled to go into effect on March 17. 

One group in favor of medical assistance in dying, “Dying with Dignity Canada,” issued a statement in reaction to the news, urging the Canadian government to provide clarity on their plan of action. 

“For the people across the country who live with treatment-resistant mental disorders who have patiently waited for this change in Canada’s MAID law, Dying With Dignity Canada is disheartened and shares the frustration of the continued exclusion, stigmatization and discrimination based on diagnosis,” the group said. 

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