Canada: Euthanasia is promoted while caring options are not readily available

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Dr. John Maher, who is a leading psychiatrist and editor-in-chief, of the prestigious Journal of Ethics in Mental Health, wrote an excellent analysis of the current euthanasia (MAID) practise in Canada that was published in the Hamilton Spectator on January 4.

Maher examines the current situation through the lens of how Canada got into this situation. Maher writes:

Step 1: Supreme Court “Carter” decision (2015): Some Canadians with progressively debilitating terminal diseases (like ALS) said they were forced to end their own lives sooner than they would wish because as their disease progressed they wouldn’t be able to physically end their own lives. If physically unable to complete suicide themselves, the Supreme Court said a doctor could assist in order to help preserve extra months of life.

Step 2: Bill C-14 (June 2016): Despite the very narrow focus in the “Carter” decision the federal government opened the door for a physician assisted death for anyone whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” (terminal). In 2021, three per cent of all deaths in Canada were through MAID [Medical Aid in Dying]. Counter to the Supreme Court’s stated principle to preserve length of life, people are now dying by MAID who could have lived onger, and very comfortably, if only palliative care were available. Only 30 per cent of Canadians have access to basic palliative care and fewer than 15 per cent have access to specialist palliative care. Oddly, the universal provision of MAID across Canada was added as a mandatory requirement within the purview of the Canada Health Act while the universal provision of palliative care never has been.

Step 3: “Truchon” decision (2019): In a lower court in Quebec one judge said MAID should be available to those who were not terminally ill. This egregiously violated the Supreme Court’s principle to preserve life. Some Canadians with disabilities are now pressured within a stigmatized system to choose MAID when they could live decades longer if only disability supports were universally funded.

Step 4: Bill C-7 (March 2021): 7 million Canadians have disabilities, 44 per cent of Canadians over age 20 have a chronic illness (16 million people) and 50 per cent of all Canadians have, or have had, a mental illness by age 40 (19 million people). Millions of nonterminally ill Canadians can qualify for MAID under Bill C-7. There are approximately 100,000 doctors/NPs in Canada. How do you prevent the kind of abuse we have seen in the three European countries that allow nonterminal MAID?

Maher continues by stating that Bill C-7, passed in March 2021, blindsided mental health experts. The approval of euthanasia for mental illness alone was added only a month before the bill went to a final vote, which was after the consultations were already completed. He then states:

Unlike physical illnesses, in psychiatry you can’t predict who will get better over what period of time, or who might have (in the legal language of the bill) “irremediable” suffering. How do you offer death when it is impossible to know if someone will get better and live a long life without further suffering?

He states that only one in three Canadians who need mental health care have access to it and yet they can offer death to people who are denied treatment.

He concludes by acknowledging that [Canadian] Charter Rights have been contravened:

My right to life as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights is contravened by a government that won’t provide universal palliative care, disability supports or mental health care. And we know why. It’s cheaper. It’s also morally bankrupt.

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