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Lametti says he 'wouldn't be afraid' of pending update to assisted dying eligibility

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OTTAWA -

Canada's former justice minister says he would have no fear of pressing ahead with a plan to allow people to seek medical assistance in dying solely on the basis of mental illness.

But David Lametti, who was ousted from cabinet last summer and is leaving political life next week, also knows it's no longer his decision to make.

Lametti shepherded legislation through Parliament last year that postponed the scheduled change at the last minute. Access to the program is now set to expand in March, unless it gets delayed a second time.

"It would only apply to a very, very small number of people, and so I wouldn't be afraid personally of moving forward with it," he told The Canadian Press in an interview late Thursday.

"I think people who have tried everything and are suffering and are capable of making that decision ought to be able to make that decision."

As attorney general, Lametti oversaw the expansion of the regime to cover adults suffering from physical illness whose death was not "reasonably foreseeable." That was triggered by a 2019 Quebec Superior Court decision that found the existing law to be unconstitutional.

Senators later drafted an amendment that was expanding the program to those seeking a medically assisted death solely on the basis of a mental disorder. The government ultimately accepted the amendment.

In the face of ongoing concerns, the federal government resurrected a parliamentary committee to study whether medical professionals were ready. Justice Minister Arif Virani and Health Minister Mark Holland both say they are awaiting a final report to be presented to the House of Commons next week.

Lametti, who represents a Montreal riding, said the one-year delay imposed last year allowed for necessary work to ensure medical providers are ready.

"I felt that they were close, but we weren't quite (there) and we still needed more time," he said. "My understanding is that that work has largely been accomplished."

The national association representing providers of medical assistance in death says its professionals are ready and different jurisdictions are organizing training for their clinicians.

"Concerning some provinces and territories now sharing their readiness concerns, assessors from across the country have told us that they are ready and that oversight is in place," Dr. Konia Trouton said in a statement.

Holland has said some provinces do not feel ready for the expansion, acknowledging that in some cases the uncertainty may be for ideological reasons.

Whatever the source of the apprehension, the federal government must ensure the majority feel ready to forge ahead, he said.

Among those voicing concerns is the Alberta government, which opposes allowing an individual diagnosed with a mental illness or depression from accessing a medically assisted death.

"We will be calling on the federal government to reconsider this policy and indefinitely delay and stop its implementation," Dan Williams, Alberta's mental health and addictions minister, said in a recent statement.

"We have serious concerns, which have been echoed by our provincial and territorial colleagues, and we do not support the provision of assisted suicide for people with mental illness."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

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