Globe and Mail Editorial – No to euthanasia for mental disorders alone.

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Euthanasia for mental disorders has become a hotly debated issue as Canada approaches March 2023, when the moratorium on euthanasia for mental disorders will be lifted and permitted. 

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading national newspaper, published an editorial on September 1, titled: Medical assistance in dying is a right that needs more limits. While technically speaking, (MAiD) euthanasia in Canada is not a right, the editorial opposes Canada’s current legislation which will permit euthanasia for mental disorders alone come March 2023. 

The editorial begins with a fictional story of a 70-year-old woman who is living with major depressive and post-traumatic stress disorders and asks the question whether or not this woman should be approved for a medically assisted death. The editorial states that this story is one of the scenarios considered in the final report of the Expert Panel on MAiD and Mental Illness. The report does not suggest what should happen to the 70-year-old woman, nonetheless the report does conclude that no changes are needed to Canada’s current euthanasia law when it permits euthanasia for mental disorders alone.

The editorial explains:

Parliament amended the MAID law to create two tracks, one for applicants whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable, and a second, with enhanced safeguards including a 90-day waiting period, for those whose deaths are not. Of 10,064 assisted deaths last year, 219, or 2.2 per cent, followed track two. 

Track two would have been open to patients whose only illness is mental, but Parliament excluded applications of that kind for two years to allow for further study. The exception expires next March; a joint committee of the House and Senate has until October to report on the issue.

Starting in March 2023 euthanasia for mental illness will likely be permitted with a 90-day waiting period. 

The editorial provides the position of those who support and those who oppose euthanasia for mental illness. It states:

Backers also say Canadian doctors are sure to tread carefully, much like their Dutch counterparts, who reject more than 90 per cent of euthanasia applications for psychiatric suffering. Such cases have increased in the Netherlands nonetheless, to 88 in 2020 from two in 2010. 
 
As psychiatrist John Maher put it to the Parliamentary committee, “the rallying cry is autonomy at all costs. But the inescapable cost is people dying who would get better. What number of mistaken guesses is acceptable to you?”

The editorial does not point out that the Netherlands euthanasia protocols require a person who requests euthanasia for mental disorders alone to try effective treatments over a one year period.

The editorial concludes by stating that a Quebec government committee rejected euthanasia for mental disorders and the federal government has time to do the same.

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