After public outcry and international scrutiny over the federal Liberal government’s decision to expand doctor assisted suicide to the mentally ill, on Thursday Ottawa announced it will introduce a bill to delay the new rules until March 17, 2024. 

Originally the program was set to take effect in spring 2023. 

Justice Minister David Lametti said during a press conference that recent developments with assisted suicide in Canada has created the need for more deliberation on the expansion. 

“It is clear that more time is needed to get this right, which brings us to today’s bill, C-39 – the proposed one year expansion is necessary to ensure that we move forward on this sensitive and complex issue in a prudent and measured way,” said Lametti. 

Lametti cited the need for more studies on the risks associated with providing assisted suicide to the mentally ill. 

On whether the one year extension was enough time to sort out these complex issues, Lametti said he was “extremely confident” that the program will be in place by the new deadline. 

“We’re giving time, for whatever reason… Covid or other factors… For those other provinces, faculties of medicine to internalize the very positive guidelines that are given by the expert committee.” 

In a Feb. 2 statement the non-partisan think tank Cardus said that while the delay is a step in the right direction it falls short. 

Ray Pennings, Executive vice-president of Cardus, called on the government to not follow through with the expansion and instead make palliative care universally available to all Canadians. 

“(The government should be) committing to helping people live with dignity, so that no one seeks medically assisted suicide because of a lack of housing, insufficient income, or inadequate support for physical disabilities or mental illness,” wrote Pennings. 

“(Also by) reducing social isolation and loneliness by working with charities, faith communities, and other parts of civil society who can help desperate and vulnerable people in ways bureaucracies cannot.” 

In Aug. 2022 it was revealed that a Canadian veteran seeking treatment for mental health issues was told by a Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) official to consider seeking doctor assisted suicide. 

VAC eventually apologized over the incident after it was reported to the media. 

“VAC deeply regrets what transpired,” said the agency claiming that “appropriate administrative action will be taken.”

“Providing advice pertaining to medical assistance in dying is not a VAC service.”