By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Brian Bird, who is a lecturer at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, wrote an excellent article that was published in the National Post on August 21. It is based on Kathrin Mentler, a Canadian who lives with chronic suicidal thoughts and who was recently offered (MAiD) euthanasia while she was seeking help during a mental health crisis.
Imagine if you were having suicidal thoughts and, fearing for your life, you went to a hospital seeking treatment. A clinician tells you that psychiatric healthcare is “broken” and plagued by delays. Later in the conversation, the clinician asks if you have ever considered assisted death.
There is no need to imagine this scenario, because according to a patient in Vancouver — 37-year-old Kathrin Mentler — this is precisely what happened to her. It is now a matter of public record that, in Canada, euthanasia is being openly discussed with individuals who are suicidal but want to live.
Bird explains what happened:
Mentler, who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, went to Vancouver General Hospital to seek help in June. After completing an intake form, she was taken to a room where a clinician conducted an interview. The clinician asked Mentler if she had ever considered assisted death as an option, noting that it would be more “comfortable” than committing suicide by overdosing on medication — a concern that Mentler specifically had in mind when she went to the hospital that day.
Bird states that the counsellor at the hospital posed the euthanasia question to assess the risk of suicide. Bird correctly states that this is an unacceptable response. Bird then explains that euthanasia for mental illness is not yet a legal practice and he further suggests that suggesting euthanasia is wrong. He wrote:
Providing euthanasia in circumstances that have not been exempted from the Criminal Code is a serious crime. The same is true for counselling someone to receive euthanasia even if they are legally eligible to receive it. While there can be a fine line between informing and counselling, some of the comments in the case of Mentler seem to wander close to it.
…An investigation should look into Mentler’s case and determine whether it is an isolated incident. Although the hospital apologized for “any distress caused” to Mentler, it appeared to maintain that what happened was standard and appropriate clinical procedure. Minister of Health Adrian Dix should be making inquiries — if he has not done so already.
Bird then compares this case to the pressure by the euthanasia lobby to force Catholic hospitals to provide euthanasia. He writes:
…Not far down the road from Vancouver General, a controversy erupted after St. Paul’s Hospital, a Catholic healthcare community which adheres to the ethical position that euthanasia amounts to killing, refused earlier this year to provide the procedure to a patient who requested it. The patient was later transferred to a nearby facility where she received euthanasia.
The case of St. Paul’s sparked sustained media coverage and intense public outcry, which led the health minister to state that Catholic hospitals in British Columbia should provide euthanasia within their walls. Discussions between the province and Providence Health Care, the faith-based organization standing behind St. Paul’s Hospital, appear to be ongoing.
Bird asks – will the Mentler case get the same degree of scrutiny as the case at St Paul’s Hospital received?
Bird points out that the argument that suicide and assisted suicide are different has been proven wrong by the Mentler case.
The article concludes by stating that there is a need for medical facilities that do not provide euthanasia.
Healthcare communities that conscientiously refuse to provide euthanasia are not simply protecting their moral and ethical integrity and the persons who work within. They are protecting patients who do not want to be treated in facilities where euthanasia will be proposed.
There is profound value in preserving sanctuaries from euthanasia in our healthcare system. Given the case of Mentler, I suspect she and many other Canadians would wholeheartedly agree.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.