The Canadian parliament is on the verge of expanding its medically-assisted suicide program to cover people suffering from “mental illness.” This has sparked much criticism from Canadians and the Canadian press, given the country’s historic lack of funding for programs dedicated to treating people with mental illnesses. The Globe and Mail, a Canadian news outlet, summed up the situation in a tweet by saying, “Euthanasia without real mental health care is a moral failure. Fund it now”. The expansion of the program stands at the center of a serious moral debate in the Canadian healthcare system surrounding the ethicality of euthanasia as a legitimate medical “treatment.”
John Hayward; December 13, 2022
Canada’s impending expansion of assisted suicide to people suffering from mental illness is sounding alarms across the country and around the world, especially given the woefully inadequate funding for mental health in Canada’s public health care system.
“This country is on the verge of providing publicly funded euthanasia for people suffering from diseases for which there is little publicly funded care,” Canada’s Globe and Mail warned last week, becoming the latest critical voice to wonder if “Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID),” a euphemism for killing people by request, might start looking like an all-too-efficient way to balance the books.
The Globe and Mail elaborated:
Lurking over this country is the specter of a public insurance system that does not cover such basic treatments as psychotherapy, that underspends on mental health compared to peer countries, and that is failing to provide adequate community support and housing for people with chronic mental disorders. It will also shortly become a country that provides medically assisted deaths to people who can’t access the very things that might make their lives more bearable.
The Canadian newspaper professed itself to support “the right to die with dignity and the principles that guide the MAID regime,” and even supported the right of people suffering from mental disorders to opt for the “last resort” after years of unsuccessful treatment, but worried impoverished Canadians will have trouble obtaining the financial support and mental health care that could make them less likely to choose suicide.
“To be a laggard on mental health care spending, while implementing some of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world, is a moral failure,” the editorial concluded.
The Signal, a publication of the University of King’s College School of Journalism in Halifax, on Monday interviewed a student named Anais Pierre-Estime who survived a suicide attempt at 14 but felt she would have been killed if medically assisted suicide had been available at the time.
“Having that option out, it’s very dangerous, especially someone who’s not being surveilled by a doctor or not receiving the help they need,” Pierre-Estime said.
“As someone that really struggled to see my own worth, I know that a lot of people … struggle with that on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “You really don’t know what’s going through someone’s mind. I’m scared for a lot of people.”
Pierre-Estime is a student at Dalhousie, whose retired alumnus Dr. Jeff Kirby resigned from Canada’s Expert Panel on “MAID and Mental Illness” in April because he felt the new policy for mental illness did not have adequate safeguards. Among other problems, Kirby said decisions to kill people will be made by doctors and nurses who lack training in psychiatry.
On December 1, the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry called for postponement of the killing expansion, currently scheduled to take effect on March 17, 2023.
Members of the association, which includes the heads of psychiatry at all of Canada’s 17 medical schools, said more time was needed to develop standards for suicide eligibility. They worried that patients in rural areas lacked access to mental health care, and even those Canadians with nominal access face very long wait times for treatment.
“We’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic. And we’re in the middle of a mental health pandemic. Post-COVID, wait times for access to treatment are the highest ever,” said Dr. Jitender Sareen of the University of Manitoba.
On December 5, former Paralympic athlete and military veteran Christine Gauthier told the House of Commons Veterans Committee she requested a home wheelchair lift in 2019 and was stunned when a staffer suggested she consider killing herself instead.
“I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAID, medical assistance in dying,” Gauthier told the committee.
“I was like, ‘I can’t believe that you will … give me an injection to help me die, but you will not give me the tools I need to help me live,’” she said in a later media interview. “It was really shocking to hear that kind of comment.”
Gauthier took her complaint to far-left Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said it was “absolutely unacceptable,” but the House of Commons committee heard testimony that several other veterans have been offered death when they requested assistance. This does not bode well for a near future in which “medically” approved killing is aggressively offered to people with mental health problems.
Photo: Getty Images