Don’t abandon people with mental illness to death by Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On December 15, 2023 Stephanie Taylor reported for the Canadian Press that Justice Minister Arif Virani stated that the federal government may “pause its plan” to permit euthanasia (MAiD) when a person’s only underlying condition is a mental disorder.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition needs your help to implement a successful campaign to reverse the current direction with euthanasia in Canada.

*Sign and share our petition to Justice Minister Arif Virani, Rob Moore (CPC Justice Critic) and Randall Garrison (NDP Justice Critic).

When the Canadian government expanded its euthanasia law[(MAiD)  in March 2021 (Bill C-7) it did so by removing the terminal illness requirement and permitting Canadians to be poisoned to death if they have an irremediable medical condition.

Bill C-7 also added the option of euthanasia for mental illness alone. The government originally provided a two-year moratorium on euthanasia for mental illness to give them time to prepare for this expansion. In 2023 the government extended the moratorium for another year. Therefore, unless the government pauses its current plan, euthanasia for mental illness alone will become an option on March 17, 2024.

In February 2023, the Angus Reid Institute published a poll indicating that 31% of Canadians supported euthanasia for mental illness alone, with the highest support being in Quebec (36%) and the lowest support being in Saskatchewan (21%). In September 2023, the Angus Reid Institute conducted another poll which indicated that support for euthanasia for mental illness alone had dropped to 28% of Canadians.

Even though Canadians oppose euthanasia for mental illness, Canada’s parliament recently defeated Bill C-314, sponsored by Hon. Ed Fast (MP), that would have prevented euthanasia for mental illness alone. The good news was that the vote was close (167 – 150) with all of the Conservatives and NDP and 8 Liberals supporting Bill C-314.

We need to tell the stories.

In August 2022, Global News reported the story of a Veterans Affairs employee who advocated (MAiD) euthanasia for a veterans living with (PTSD). The article stated:

A Canadian Forces veteran seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury was shocked when he was unexpectedly and casually offered medical assistance in dying by a Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) employee, sources tell Global News.

Sources say a VAC service agent brought up medical assistance in dying, or MAID, unprompted in the conversation with the veteran. Global News is not identifying the veteran who was seeking treatment.

Canadians were shocked that a veteran who served the country and was seeking help for PTSD was offered MAiD. The story was published around the same time as several other stories of people with disabilities who were approved for euthanasia based on poverty. homelessness or being unable to obtain medical treatment.

The Tyee in August 2023 the story of Kathrin Mentler (37) who lives with chronic suicidal ideation. Mentler, who said that she has lived with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for many years, was offered euthanasia at the Assessment Centre at the Vancouver General Hospital when she was seeking help for suicidal ideation.

According to the article, Mentler went to the Vancouver General Hospital to receive help. The article states that she was told by the counsellor that the mental health system was “completely overwhelmed”, there were no available beds, and the earliest that she could talk with a psychiatrist was in about five months. The counsellor then asked Mentler if she had ever considered medically assisted suicide.

Canadians reacted strongly to the Mentler story as she was experiencing suicidal ideation and offered euthanasia while seeking a “safe place”. It must be noted that euthanasia for mental illness was technically illegal in June 2023 when it was offered as an option to Mentler.

In August 2023 a story was published by the Richmond News explaining that if euthanasia for mental illness had existed in the past, that Karim Jessa would be dead. Jessa explained in the interview that he opposes euthanasia for mental illness because, when he had hit rock bottom, he would have asked for an assisted death if it had been legal, but now he is a completely different person.

An editorial published by the Globe and Mail on November 4, 2023 quoted Dr. K Sonu Gaind, Chief of Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, that there is “absolutely no consensus” as to what constitutes an irremediable medical condition when it comes to patients with mental illness. This comment is important because the law requires that a person to be approved for euthanasia, must have an irremediable medical condition.

There have been many articles in the media concerning people with disabilities who asked for or received (MAiD) euthanasia based on poverty, homelessness or an inability to obtain medical treatment.

Similar to people with disabilities, people with mental health issues are more likely to live in poverty, to be homeless or to struggle to obtain the medical treatment that they need.

The battle to protect people with mental illness from MAiD has not ended. 

As noted above, on December 13 Justice Minister Arif Virani stated that the Federal government may “pause its original plan” to permit (MAiD) euthanasia for mental illness.

Members of parliament will have the opportunity to oppose euthanasia for mental illness when they return to parliament after the Christmas break.

Members of Parliament need to reject euthanasia for mental illness.

Urge Members of Parliament Not to abandon people with mental illness to death by MAiD.

Sign and share our petition to Justice Minister Arif Virani, Rob Moore (CPC Justice Critic) and Randall Garrison (NDP Justice Critic).

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