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Statement on upcoming changes to Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) law

The Canadian Mental Health Association makes this statement in anticipation of a legislative change expected in March 2024 that will allow people to qualify for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) when mental illness is the sole underlying condition. Considering the Final Report from the Expert Panel on MAiD and Mental Illness1, CMHA is focused on ensuring that all people with a mental illness have the conditions they need to recover, and the care they need to be well. This includes housing, food, income, and wrap-around health supports.  

CMHA is the leading network of community-based mental healthcare providers across the country. CMHA is holding the federal government accountable for delivering universal mental health care so that everyone in Canada can access the full range of mental health and substance use health programs and supports to which they are entitled under international human rights law.  

Universal mental health care entails integrating these programs and supports into our public healthcare system and making them all available free of charge. This includes recovery-oriented approaches and new, life-saving treatments to which only some people currently have access. It means ensuring such services are culturally safe and trauma-informed and rooted in the principles of health equity.  

The human rights of people with a mental illness are fundamental, including their rights to dignity, self-determination and bodily autonomy. Canada is failing to meet its human rights obligations when people with a mental illness cannot receive the programs, supports and resources they need to be well and live with dignity. The federal government has an obligation to ensure that a person has all of the resources they need to live. An absence of affordable housing, income supports and/or food security must not be the reason someone chooses MAiD. 

The protection of people seeking MAiD is paramount. Robust and rights-based safeguards to prevent harm and discrimination, including coercion, must accompany the legislative change permitting MAiD for those with a mental illness as their sole underlying condition. Safeguards must allow for discussions with caregivers and allied healthcare professionals, like case managers and counselors, when making decisions about eligibility and capacity. Safeguards must include minimum assessment periods to ensure sufficient time for individuals to connect with and benefit from the resources they need in the community.  

People with lived and living experience of a mental illness must be meaningfully engaged in the development of these safeguards and all other policies related to MAiD. CMHA will continue working with governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the perspectives of people with lived and living experience and their allies inform the development of the safeguards that will accompany this legislative change.  

[1] Two members of CMHA National’s Board of Directors sat on the Expert Panel.