By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
“61 per cent of Canadians …are unsure or don’t support MAiD for those waiting for care.”
Canada’s euthanasia (MAiD) regime is the most permissive in the world, with the exception of child euthanasia. The recent W5 investigative report by Avis Favaro focuses on people who want to die by euthanasia for mental illness; the doctors who are willing to kill patients with mental illness; and those who recognize the serious problem with killing people by euthanasia for mental illness.
When Canada’s parliament passed Bill C-7 in March 2021 one of the expansions to the euthanasia law was it allowed euthanasia for mental illness alone. However the government established a two-year moratorium on euthanasia for mental illness in order to establish protocols around the killing.
On the pro-euthanasia side of the equation, Favaro interviews John Scully (81) who is a retired journalist who has struggled with depression for 35 years. Scully wants to die by euthanasia for mental illness after the two year moratorium is lifted in March 2023.
Favaro also interviewed Dr. Ellen Wiebe, one of Canada’s most outspoken euthanasia doctors, who operates a euthanasia clinic in Vancouver. Wiebe who says that she had killed 400 people by euthanasia told Favaro that:
“Mental illness and Physical illness both can cause unbearable suffering.”
Favaro interviewed Mitchell Tremblay (40) who has been living with depression for many years. Favaro reports:
[H]e was diagnosed with severe depression as a teen and he also deals with anxiety, alcoholism, personality disorders and continual thoughts of suicide. He can’t work and lives in poverty on a disability payment of just under $1,200 a month.
“You know what your life is worth to you. And mine is worthless.”
Mitchell is seeking euthanasia because of depression but he is also living in poverty.
“But some experts warn Canada is about to offer what they say will amount to “state-assisted suicide” for the mentally ill, at a time when health services are strained,” Favaro writes.
Favaro interviewed psychiatrist, Dr. John Maher, who focuses on suicide prevention.
“I had a patient who talked to me recently about MAiD who wants to die because of his belief no one will ever love him,”
He says colleagues have shared similar stories of patients in their care, enquiring about how to stop therapy and qualify for assisted death.
Maher told Favaro that patients may wait up to five years for treatment. Maher then writes
“There are cycles of illness… Some of it’s up and down. It might be years. And then there’s a burst of illness and suffering that we then take care of,”
“You’re assisting someone in the completion of their suicide. The doctor is the sanitized gun,”
“I’m not at all disagreeing that there are people who have an irremediable illness. What I defy you or any other person in the universe to prove to me is that it’s this person in front of you.”
Favaro interviews Serena Bains, who lives with severe depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. Bains is afraid that she will die by euthanasia when she is at a low time in her life. Favaro reports:
Her worry is that if she spirals downward and hits a rough patch she might be suicidal enough to ask for MAiD and qualify.
“A lot of the conditions I have … they’re perceived as being severe. They’ve been consistent. I’ve had them since I was a teenager,” she says.
Serena’s been on a waitlist to see psychiatrists multiple times. “This year it took, like, a year and three months.”
Bains told Favaro that the mental health system in Canada is broken. Dr. Wiebe acknowledged that there are problems with Canada’s mental health system but she said that it doesn’t mean patients shouldn’t be eligible for assisted death.
Favaro then referred to a CTV news Nanos poll that indicated that 61 per cent — almost two-thirds of Canadians — are unsure or don’t support MAiD for those waiting for care.
Favaro completes her investigative report by interviewing bioethicist and Washington based psychiatrist Dr. Scott Kim who says that Canada is about to become the most liberal country in the world in allowing those with mental disorders to access assisted death.
Dr. Kim has been studying psychiatric euthanasia and its use in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, where it’s been practised for two decades.
Both countries have more stringent requirements for proving an illness is irremediable, says Dr. Kim, by requiring psychiatric input and putting more emphasis on trying additional therapies than is recommended in Canada.
Belgium also has a two-track system in which patients and doctors look for potential therapy and treatments, while another team assesses the patient for MAiD.
The rates of approval for psychiatric illnesses in Belgium and the Netherlands are low, says Dr. Kim, ranging from just one to three per cent.
“The large majority are rejected,” he says. “Overwhelmingly, the main reason is there are other alternatives.”
Dr. Wiebe told Favaro that assessors will review what treatments patients have received but treatments can’t be forced on anyone.
Wiebe is correct that treatment is voluntary, but the protocols in the Netherlands and Belgium indicate that if a person rejects effective treatment then they will not be considered for MAiD.
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition opposes all forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide because we reject the concept that medical practitioners should have the right in law to kill their patients. Nonetheless we thank Favaro and W5 for covering the issue of euthanasia for mental illness.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.