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Several dozen expert witnesses, including doctors, ethicist and disability advocates, are criticizing the parliamentary committee studying Canada’s euthanasia laws for recommending a wide expansion of assisted dying that includes mature minors and people with mental illness, without paying proper attention to the research on the potential risks.

In a public letter being released Tuesday, the 43 committee witnesses say the final report “misconstrues, misrepresents, minimizes, and completely ignores key evidence necessary to protect Canadians,” while “amplifying” those who favoured more wider access.

“The whole process was dismissive of the evidence,” said Leonie Herx, the chair of palliative medicine at Queen’s University, who was one of the committee’s witnesses, and a signatory to the letter.

In February, the majority members of the committee, which heard from nearly 150 witnesses over six months last year, recommended expanding medical assistance in dying to Canadians under 18, as well as allowing advance requests for people diagnosed with debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, so they could receive MAID well into the future, even when they are no longer able to consent.

The committee’s majority report also supported MAID for patients with mental illness as the sole condition – a change that was supposed to automatically come into effect this month – until the federal government sought a one-year extension to allow for further study.

The Liberal government has made clear this is only a pause, and it supports expanding MAID to mental illness. In an Ottawa news conference Monday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that, if elected, his government would repeal any law allowing MAID for mental illness.

Even as the government moves forward, expanding MAID to an increasingly wider group of patients continues to be a contentious and complex issue in the country. It has divided doctors, researchers and patient advocates and families – as well as the committee members themselves. (A dissenting report by Conservative members opposed further expansions to MAID, especially for young people.)

Public testimony before the committee was often tense and emotional, with many experts clearly frustrated at the short time they were given to respond to complicated questions from MPs and senators. In the letter, the witnesses say they felt the committee often ignored them or talked over them in favour of more pro-MAID testimony.

“Given how serious this matter is – literally one of life and death – one would expect a careful, thoughtful and diligent process that was based on fact,” says Dr. Herx, “and rooted in the first-hand experience and needs of those most impacted by MAID. It was not.”

The committee’s majority recommendations, if they were followed, would make Canada’s euthanasia laws among the broadest in the world. The letter being sent to Parliament criticizes the report for not giving proper weight in its recommendations to issues around lack of health care resources, including palliative care, the need to protect vulnerable patients, and for not recommending important safeguards for minors such as a minimum age and parental involvement.

By being “activist,” and not “prudent,” the letter argues, the committee’s recommendations “introduce larger segments of the Canadian population to potential harms instead of supporting Canadians to live well and flourish.”

Several pieces of proposed legislation have already been introduced that would make amendments to the existing MAID law. In February, the Quebec government introduced legislation that would legalize advance requests for illnesses such as dementia. A private member’s bill, introduced by one of the Senators on the parliamentary committee, proposes to do the same federally. Meanwhile, Conservative MP’s private member’s bill would prevent MAID from being expanded to people with mental illness as a sole condition.

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