Medical Assistance in Death

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Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Oct. 15 to correct fact-checking errors and language use.
Corrections: Having Parkinson’s disease could make a person eligible for MAID.
A Vancouver woman was asked if she considered MAID, she was not offered MAID.

Medically assisted suicide for those whose sole diagnosis is a mental illness will be a reality in Canada starting in March 2024. To be more specific, it’ll include “conditions that are primarily within the domain of psychiatry, such as depression and personality disorders,” according to Dying With Dignity Canada’s website.

To describe this as a bad idea would be an understatement. Sadistic might be one way. Misinformed and cruel might be another. The United Nations told us as much in a concerned letter sent to the government of Canada in 2021. They said, “It is not beyond possibility that, if offered an expanded right as per Bill C-7, persons with disabilities may decide to end their lives because of broader social factors such as loneliness, social isolation and lack of access to quality social services.”

The whole thing reeks of cruelty, ignorance and old-fashioned boomer condescension.

Tim Stainton, co-director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia was less optimistic when he said this is “probably the biggest existential threat to disabled people since the Nazis’ program in Germany in the 1930s”.

This begs an obvious question, why wouldn’t we want to invest money into mental health programs, pay people a decent wage, especially those with disabilities, as well as offering affordable housing and reducing social isolation instead of giving them an easier option to die? The answer, as always, that everything to do with money and very little to do with the actual well-being of our citizens.

Earlier this year in Vancouver, as per True North’s reporting, a woman was asked if she considered MAID after doing the responsible thing and checking herself into the hospital following suicidal thoughts. In October of last year, a 54-year-old disabled St. Catherine’s man with back pain applied for medical suicide because, according to him, “I don’t want to die but I don’t want to be homeless more than I don’t want to die.”

So yeah, it totally sounds like this will not be used for killing Canadians who could use more support. Considering one in three Canadians will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime, almost nine million people, we can safely assume there may be more of these incidents down the road.

Not to worry, says Carolyn Bennett, our minister of mental health and addictions, said that suicidal people will not be eligible for MAiD. This begs a very common-sense question, isn’t someone who is suicidal also depressed? Do we honestly expect physicians to recognize the difference thousands of times per year without ever making a mistake? Bennett, I might add, was embroiled in a minor scandal two years ago for suggesting that an Indigenous member of parliament’s empathetic tweets about unmarked graves of Indigenous children were her attempt to secure a pension, rather than an expression of empathy. That sounds exactly like the kind of level-headed, empathetic, and critical thinking that we need in modern discussions about mental health in this country.

We have crisis/mental health hotlines because what we really care about in this country is suicide prevention. We have no interest in long term assistance. We love to tell you to step back from the ledge. Try deep breathing. Try counting to 10. Try writing in a journal. Then, take your prescription meds and get back in line with the other serfs and stave off your depression with fancy new toys and gadgets like everyone else.

This all leads me to my final question, who really are the mentally sick people in this country?

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 2 on Thursday, Oct. 5.

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1 comment

Unfortunately, Vince Masson’s article is full of misinformation about medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada.
Yes, MAID for people whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder will be able to apply for MAID beginning in March 2024 after a sunset clause and delay to ensure health professionals and their authorities were prepared.
MAID is a legal right for eligible Canadians who meet the criteria and who chose this end-of-life option to end their intolerable suffering. There are rigorous criteria and safeguards that you can read more about here [].
When the Senate introduced the sunset clause, allowing MAID for those whose sole underlying medical condition is a mental disorder in March 2021, they recognized that excluding those individuals would be a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it would discriminate on the basis that a person has a mental disorder. Excluding people with mental disorders from MAID legislation also suggests that if you have a mental disorder, you can’t possibly have capacity to make decisions for yourself and that your suffering can’t be as intolerable as someone with a physical condition. That is stigmatizing.
Canada should continue to prioritize and invest in improving access to mental health services and supports but it’s important for people across the country to understand that a MAID assessment is a rigorous and thorough process carried out by clinicians with care. Someone in acute crisis, with depression or who is contemplating suicide could not just apply for and access MAID. It will be a small number of people with longstanding, treatment-resistant mental illness who may be found eligible for MAID and each person will be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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