By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Anna Mehler Paperny wrote an article for Reuters that was published July 15 examining Canada’s March 2024 expansion of euthanasia to include mental illness. Paperny, who seems to be advocating for euthanasia, examines the issue based on the story of Lisa Pauli, a 47 year-old woman who lives with anorexia. Pauli, who says that she has struggled with her eating disorder since the age of 8, said:
“Every day is hell,” she said. “I’m so tired. I’m done. I’ve tried everything. I feel like I’ve lived my life.”
Paperny suggests that Pauli does not currently qualify for MAiD (euthanasia). But in March 2024 Canadians whose sole underlying condition is mental illness, will qualify for euthanasia. Paperny states that Canada will have one of the most expansive euthanasia laws in the world.
Canada’s Justice Minister, David Lametti told Paperny that:
“We have gotten where we are through a number of very prudent steps,”
“It’s been a slow and careful evolution. And I’m proud of that.”
Paperny wrote that in 2022 there were 15 Québec euthanasia cases that were outside of the law and there were 19 cases in British Columbia since 2018.
* The data does not tell the whole story. Canada has a self-reporting system. The doctor or nurse practitioner who approves the death is also the same doctor or nurse practitioner that can carry-out the death and then the same doctor or nurse practitioner is required to report the death. Self-reporting systems protect the doctors and nurse practitioners who are willing to participate in euthanasia.
Lametti believes that Canada’s euthanasia law does not go far enough.
Lametti told Paperny that the federal government is considering recommendations from a parliamentary committee to allow euthanasia by advance requests and for “mature minors” –people under 18–deemed capable of making this decision.
When asked about the cases of people with disabilities who are living in poverty, homeless or having difficulty receiving medical treatment Lametti said:
But “you can’t get MAID simply because you’re having some social challenges or economic challenges. … Unless they fall into the medical criteria, they can’t access.”
Lametti ignores the fact that people qualify for MAiD based on their medical condition (disability). But they are not seeking death because of their disability but because of their social, medical and economic challenges.
Sonu Gaind, the Chief of Psychiatry at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre told Paperny that:
It can be difficult to determine whether a mental illness is truly irremediable, as the law requires, and to differentiate between pathological suicidality and a rational desire to die
“We don’t even understand the biology of most mental illnesses,”
Michelle Hewitt, co-chair of the advocacy group Disability Without Poverty told Paperny:
“My biggest fear is that we go to this absolute terminal end and people die but we haven’t invested time, money, people in putting the things in place that would mean that people don’t want to consider.”
Hewitt commented on the euthanasia death of Sean Taggert in 2019:
Sean Tagert, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease who opted for medically assisted death in 2019 after he struggled to get 24-hour care.
“He was very clear on what he wanted – more care hours at home – and when he was told he would have to move to a care facility a distance from his family, particularly his young son, he used MAID”
Paperny completed the article by asking Charles Falconer, a British Labour peer who supports euthanasia, how Canada’s experience with euthanasia is affecting the debate in Britain, where euthanasia is not legal. Falconer stated:
“Canada is being used primarily as an argument against us, not an argument in favour,”
“It does in one sense [represent a slippery slope], doesn’t it, because it started off with terminal illness and it’s ended up with non-terminal illness and mental illness.”
Canada’s has experienced a practical slippery slope when it comes to euthanasia. Lisa Pauli’s wish to die by euthanasia does not bring assurance that euthanasia for mental illness is ever warranted. Her story is an illustration of a woman who needs good medical and mental health treatment and support, not death.
Yes, it is natural that in her condition she would feel “tired of living” but the answer it not death by lethal drugs, but supportive and intensive treatment that is life giving, not death giving.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.