Liberal government promoting a 'culture of death' with medical assistance in dying law, Conservative MP says

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre listens as Conservative MP Ed Fast speaks during a news conference on his private member's bill on medical assistance in dying, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, March 6, 2023. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre listens as Conservative MP Ed Fast speaks during a news conference on his private member's bill on medical assistance in dying, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, March 6, 2023. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative MP Ed Fast said Monday he will soon table a bill to repeal a Liberal law that allows the mentally ill to access medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Fast said the MAID regime, first introduced by the Liberal government in 2016, should have never been extended to people suffering solely from mental illness — a vulnerable group he said should be offered help, not death.

"Those suffering from mental disorders, including depression, deserve mental health and social support and counselling. They need to find some joy and some meaning in life," Fast said.

"It is deeply concerning that this government appears to be moving from a culture of life to a culture of death."

WATCH: Poilievre supports bill to withhold MAID from those suffering solely from mental illness

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was on hand for Fast's announcement.

He said some people are suffering from mental health disorders because of the government's policies.

"After eight years of Justin Trudeau, everything feels broken and people feel broken. That's why many are suffering from depression and they're losing hope," Poilievre said.

"Our job is to turn their hurt back into hope. To treat mental illness problems rather than ending people's lives."

Poilievre said that if Fast's private member's bill fails to clear Parliament, a government led by him would introduce legislation to repeal MAID for the mentally ill.

Asked if he would invoke the notwithstanding clause to protect such a law from constitutional challenges, Poilievre said that wouldn't be necessary because courts have never said the mentally ill should have access to MAID.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

After the MAID bill's initial passage, the Liberal government was forced by a Quebec court decision to expand access after judges there found the "reasonably foreseeable" death clause unconstitutional.

In response, Ottawa amended the eligibly requirements in 2021 to allow anyone with "a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability" who is in "an advanced state of irreversible decline" to access MAID.

But the court never demanded that the mentally ill be added to the list of eligible groups.

That came from the Senate. In 2021, the Red Chamber passed a controversial amendment to allow those with a grievous or irremediable mental illness to access the procedure.

Some senators claimed it would be discriminatory to exclude the mentally ill because, like those with severe physical ailments, they also sometimes endure intolerable suffering.

The government accepted that amendment, allowing Canada to become one of only a few countries that allows for doctor-assisted death for mental disorders.

But following an outcry from some mental health professionals, Justice Minister David Lametti tabled legislation earlier this year to push off access until in March 2024 — giving the medical community more time to develop adequate guidelines.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government is "still consulting to protect Canadians."

"MAID is a very complex and personal issue. It's never been a partisan issue and it certainly shouldn't become one," the spokesperson told CBC News.

WATCH: Tory MP says Ottawa is promoting a 'culture of death'

Fast said it's not enough to delay implementation — the mentally ill should be barred from the regime entirely.

"My bill will simply return the state of our law to what it would have been had the unelected Senate and compliant government not intervened," Fast said.

"Let me be clear. There is no consensus across Canada that medical assistance suicide should be extended to the mentally ill."

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

In a 2020 brief on the issue, the Canadian Psychiatric Association said that excluding the mentally ill from MAID "propagates a false distinction between mental health and physical health, and the impact will be increased stigma for those who live with psychiatric illnesses."

"Patients with a psychiatric illness should not be discriminated against solely on the basis of their disability, and should have available the same options regarding MAID as available to all patients," the association said.

Independent Sen. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist who has treated the mentally ill for decades, supported an extension of MAID.

In a 2021 speech, Kutcher said people like his patients should be "respected, not discriminated against, and treated similarly to those with any other illness."

But it's a divisive issue. The association representing the lead psychiatrists at Canada's 17 medical schools last year called on Ottawa to delay MAID.

In November, the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada said more time is needed to develop high-quality standards of care, doctor training and expert consensus before allowing Canadians to apply for a medically assisted death with mental illness as their sole condition.

The law requires an irremediable condition in order to qualify for MAID. But some psychiatrists say it's difficult to accurately predict who will recover from a mental disorder.

The psychiatric chairs association said experts will need to agree on "operational" definitions of irremediability for different mental disorders, "because these definitions do not currently exist."

Chris Rands/CBC
Chris Rands/CBC

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters lost her husband Dave, a former MP, to suicide.

She said Canadians are "genuinely shocked" and "rightfully appalled" that the government has expanded MAID.

"I still wonder if there might have been another way out for Dave, another counsellor, another medical treatment, another conversation that might have made the difference. Because of the finality of his choice, I will never know," she said.

"Mental illness is not irremediable. There is always hope for someone to regain their health. As a compassionate society, we must give those enduring psychological suffering help and hope, not an easier way to die."