The Canadian government will postpone until 2027 plans to expand its assisted suicide program to include those suffering from mental illness after a parliamentary report said the country’s health system is “not ready.”

Canada first legalized assisted suicide in June 2016 for adults suffering from irreversibly deadly illnesses. In 2021, the government said it would wait an additional two years to extend those services to citizens suffering from mental illness to “study how MAID [medical assistance in dying] on the basis of a mental illness can safely be provided.”

The government last year extended that delay by another year. Canadians suffering from mental illnesses were expected to be able to apply for assisted suicide by mid-March 2024. 

On Thursday the government announced that the extension would be delayed until 2027, stating that the government-run health system “is not yet ready for this expansion.”

Health officials on Thursday “introduced legislation proposing to extend the temporary exclusion of eligibility for MAID for persons suffering solely from a mental illness for three years,” the government said in announcing the delay.

The Canadian Parliament’s Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance In Dying said in its third report issued in January that the mental illness expansion of the suicide law “should not be made available in Canada until the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice are satisfied … that it can be safely and adequately provided.”

The committee said it had heard concerns about the health system’s “lack of readiness,” including a potential inability to distinguish requests for assisted suicide from mere “suicidality.” 

The investigation also revealed uncertainties as to “whether there are enough properly trained practitioners — psychiatrists in particular — to safely and adequately provide” for the expanded suicide program. 

Some witnesses to the investigation expressed concern for “vulnerable groups, including women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and people in geographically underserved areas.”

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Ya’ara Saks, the Canadian mental health minister, said in announcing the delay that “supporting the mental health and well-being of people in Canada remains a priority for our government.” 

“We will continue to work with provinces, territories, and stakeholders to be there for individuals and communities across the country who need help,” she said. 

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller “welcomed” the government’s decision to pause the expansion but “expressed dismay that it still intends to expand access in the future,” reported the B.C. Catholic, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

“There will never be enough preparation for taking the lives of individuals suffering from mental illness,” Miller said in a statement, “and Canadians have repeatedly said they want to see improved mental health care for mental illness, not death.”

Approximately 13,000 Canadians killed themselves using government-sanctioned assisted suicide in 2022, according to the Canadian government’s most recent report.