Conservative Party members on a special committee studying the limits of Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAID) regime want to spend time hearing from those who have suffered as a result of medical failure to comply with its procedural safeguards.

MPs Michael Barrett and Michael Cooper say that before considering ways to extend the existing law, parliamentarians should consider the “effectiveness, compliance and enforceability” of existing legislative safeguards since their inception in force in 2016, then their revision in 2021.

“We are here today to give a voice to Canadian families who are victims of the lack of enforcement of MAID safeguards,” Barrett said at a Tuesday press conference on the issue.

The original wording of Canada’s MAID law allowed assisted death as long as natural death was “reasonably foreseeable”. In 2019, a Superior Court in Quebec ruled that the stipulation was unconstitutional and gave the Canadian government a deadline to remove it and bring comfort to those suffering intolerably but not facing imminent death.

In March 2021, Parliament passed Bill C-7 to reflect this change and identify additional eligibility criteria.

Those who suffered solely from mental illnesses were not on the list, but at the time the government pledged to carry out a two-year study into the needs of this specific group of patients.

This is part of the mandate of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, made up of MPs and Senators, and is established as a legislative requirement in Bill C-7.

The committee must assess the Criminal Code provisions relating to medical assistance in dying and its application, including issues surrounding access for mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and protecting Canadians with disabilities.

Cooper introduced a motion Monday at the committee’s last meeting to initiate six hours of study to hear from witnesses who faced ‘abuse’ and ‘coercion’ from doctors as their loved ones faced to the perspective of MAID, and others who ‘I have witnessed the breach of procedural safeguards.

He argues that the current structure of the joint committee does not allow these issues to be considered.

“Unfortunately, the committee is currently structured in such a way that we are looking at ways to expand medical assistance in dying without looking at the lay of the land. I say put the cart before the horse,” Cooper said.

MPs were joined by people who allege the medical system has let their loved ones down for failing to sign up for MAID safeguards.

“Our mother’s temporary suffering has ended, but now we will suffer a lifetime without her. Help us ensure his death was not in vain and our experience helps inform legislation that protects the vulnerable,” one woman said.

The first meeting took place on April 8 and although the deadline for producing a report has been extended until October, the Conservatives note that this still does not leave much time for MPs to consider all the elements of the committee’s mandate in considering Parliament’s summer recess.

It comes with the caveat that an interim report on mental illness as the sole condition underlying the request for medical assistance in dying be tabled in the House of Commons no later than June 23.

Cooper said the request for testimony is a “very modest request… It’s the least the committee can do to prepare a full report.”

The committee will debate Cooper’s motion next Monday.