Why expanding medical assistance in dying to ‘mature minors’ is wrong

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Dr. Ramona Coehlo, a family physician in London Ontario and the Hon Graydon Nicholas, a member of the Wolastoqiyik Nation and a former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, wrote an insightful opinion article that was published in the Ottawa Citizen on May 11 on the issue of euthanasia for children.

They begin by explaining that the government’s Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), is currently meeting and, among other issues, is considering MAiD for children. Briefs can be submitted to the committee until May 30.

Coehlo and Nicholas express their concern with the current problems with euthanasia in Canada and state that the Special Joint Committee should be examining the problems not expanding access to the MAiD regime in Canada. They write:

In an increasing number of reported cases, MAiD is taking the place of medical treatment and government assistance for those with social, economic and psychiatric issues. An example is the case of Alan Nichols, who had recurrent episodes of depression. Nichols was picked up by the RCMP and admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act. While in hospital, he received MAiD — to the utter dismay of his family, who wished he had received medical care instead. Similarly, a recent CTV story recounted how “Sophia,” unable to find affordable housing compatible with her chemical sensitivities, chose MAiD.

How can we keep MAiD from being used as a tool to absolve governments of their obligation to provide for those living in poverty, with disability, or with mental illness their equal rights as citizens to health, economic security, and life? That is the question the Special Joint Committee should be considering. But instead, expanding MAiD for children is on the agenda.

Coehlo and Nicholas ask the question: What are the dangers with expanding euthanasia to children? 

One is teenager suicide contagion. There is evidence that messages that promote suicide, and knowing someone who has engaged in self-harm or suicide, both raise the risk of teenage suicide contagion. Indigenous youth are particularly at risk because of an already high suicide rate resulting from longstanding injustice. Indigenous stakeholders have repeatedly demanded support from the federal government for the implementation of suicide prevention and mental wellness strategies in their communities. These demands have not been adequately met and in many cases, ignored, while the federal government instead focuses on making suicide access easier for youth, including Indigenous youth.

Coehlo and Nicholas complete their article by stating:

The Council of Canadian Academies Expert Working Group on MAiD for Mature Minors notes that there is a lack of evidence on how MAiD for children will affect families. It noted there is no robust evidence that captures the voices of youth on this matter including views of minors with disabilities, Indigenous youth, and/or those in the child welfare system. It cites a paucity of international evidence on which to draw conclusions as well.

Given the lack of evidence to support safe practice and risk of suicide contagion in teenagers, and the gravity of MAiD as an option, a valid question is: why the rush to make MAiD available for children?

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