Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) opposes euthanasia for mental illness

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Bill C-7 passed into law on March 17, thereby expanding Canada’s euthanasia (MAiD) law to include people with mental illness alone.  Passage came in spite of robust opposition from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Stephanie Davis, reporting for CTV News Regina, interviewed Phyllis O’Connor, the Executive Director of the CMHA Saskatchewan division prior to the bill becoming law. O’Connor told Davis, “We are definitely not in favour of allowing mental illness to be the reason to request medically assisted suicide.” O’Connor continued 

Mental illness, while we’re not discounting how serious the suffering can be, it’s not a terminal illness. There’s always hope, with proper supports and access to services, for recovery for people.” 

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) sent a press release out on February 24, 2021, opposing euthanasia for mental illness. They stated:

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is deeply disappointed that the government supports allowing those with mental illnesses to seek medical assistance in dying.

The CMHA gave three reasons for opposing euthanasia for mental illness:

First, it is not possible to determine whether any particular case of mental illness represents “an advanced state of decline in capabilities that cannot be reversed.”

Second, we know that cases of severe and persistent mental illness that are initially resistant to treatment can, in fact, show significant recovery over time. Mental illness is very often episodic. Death, on the other hand, is not reversible. In Dutch and Belgian studies, a high proportion of people who were seeking MAID for psychiatric reasons, but did not get it, later changed their minds.

Third is the issue of whether this distinction for mental illness vis-à-vis all other types of illness is inherently discriminatory. Denying access to MAID for mental health reasons alone does not mean those with mental illness suffer less than people afflicted with critical physical ailments. What is different about mental illness specifically, is the likelihood that symptoms of the illness will resolve over time. Because the distinction is being made specifically on the likely course of illness and not the degree of suffering, it is not discriminatory.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.