OTTAWA, Canada -- Canada on Thursday moved to delay a change to its euthanasia laws that would make mentally ill patients eligible, saying more time was needed to set up safeguards.
Canada approved doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 2016 in response to the top court striking down a ban, ruling that it deprived Canadians of their dignity and autonomy.
It was expanded in 2021 to include adults with serious and chronic physical conditions that were not life-threatening, while the government vowed to also permit mentally ill patients to request euthanasia.
But on Thursday Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill in parliament seeking a one-year extension, to March 17, 2024, for such an inclusion. He expressed confidence it would get broad support.
"We need to be prudent," he told a news conference. "We need to move step by step making sure that people within the profession (and) Canadian society at large has internalized this step."
He said the proposed extension would give more time to medical practitioners to prepare to deliver the assistance, known by its acronym MAID -- medical assistance in dying.
"It will also allow the completion of in depth studies of the risks and complexities associated with providing MAID to individuals whose sole underlying condition is mental illness," he added.
More than 30,000 Canadians have received an assisted death, according to the latest government figures from 2021.
Opinion polls show Canadians broadly support access to assisted suicide, but a number of recent reports have raised concerns that some people were asking to die not because of failing health, but rather due to poverty, lack of housing, or extreme loneliness.
One man was euthanized at his request for hearing loss. His sister testified at a senate hearing that he could hear with the help of a cochlear implant but stubbornly refused to wear it.
An investigation was also launched recently after several veterans were offered this option by a Veterans Affairs case worker, including veteran and paralympian Christine Gauthier who had reached out to ask for the installation of a wheelchair ramp at her home.