Government committee examining further expansions of Canada’s euthanasia and assisted suicide (MAiD) law

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

When Canada legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide (Medical Aid in Assistance–MAiD) in June 2016, a section of the legislation required the government to conduct a full five-year review of the legislation, starting in June 2020.

Instead of conducting a full review of the law, the Canadian government decided to expand the euthanasia law and then do a limited review of the law.

On September 11, 2019, in the Truchon decision, the province of Quebec’s  Superior Court struck down the requirement that a person be terminally ill to qualify for euthanasia in Canada. In an unprecedented manner, the federal government did not appeal the decision.

The government’s response to the Truchon decision was Bill C-7, introduced in February 2020. C-7 went much further than what Truchon required. Bill C-7 became law on March 17, 2021.

The Canadian experience with legalizing euthanasia has been that there are never enough reasons to kill.

An article by Ryan Patrick Jones for CBC News examines the direction of the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying that is conducting the review of the law. 

Jones writes about three main areas of review: euthanasia for mental illness, euthanasia by advanced request and euthanasia of mature minors. None of these categories pertain to a full review of the law.

The review may not look deeply into the issue of euthanasia for mental illness since Bill C-7 already approved it but placed a 24 month “hold” on euthanasia for mental illness to devise protocols around the killing. Jones wrote:

The expansion of MAID to people suffering primarily from depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses left lawmakers with a number of unanswered questions.

For example — how can the doctors and nurse practitioners who assess patients’ suitability for MAID determine whether a psychiatric condition is irremediable?

Many psychiatric conditions can be treated with drugs or other therapies, or can improve if life conditions that contribute to poor mental health — such as poverty, loneliness or lack of housing — are addressed.

“There is simply not enough evidence available in the mental health field … to ascertain whether a particular individual has an irremediable mental illness,” the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto stated in 2017.

Jones quoted from long-time academic euthanasia activist Jocelyn Downie on the topic of euthanasia by advanced request:

“You make much better decisions when you’re not in a state of intolerable suffering,” Downie said. “So we want people having conversations and coming to an agreement with their clinician about a future provision of MAID.”

Downie left out the fact that euthanasia by advanced request will only be an issue when the person slated to be killed has become incompetent, meaning euthanasia will be imposed on a person who is unable to legally change their mind.

Concerning the issue of euthanasia for mature minors, Jones also quoted from Downie who stated 

that if mature minors have the legal right to refuse life-saving treatments, they should have the right to choose assisted death.

The federal government is examining future expansions of euthanasia without regard for the problems and misuse of the law.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is producing a document outlining how the law is actually working. It is our hope to create a debate on how the law purposely enables doctors and nurse practitioners to kill their patients without providing effective oversight of the law.

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