MAiD really isn't a medical issue, suggests Dr. Sephora Tang, a council member with the Ontario Psychiatric Association. For most people, the reasons they want to end their lives boil down to existential questions imposed by loneliness, sadness or depression. They need a friend to lean on. It's a problem that doesn't have a medial solution. Unsplash

Anti-MAiD forces ‘need to tell better stories’

  • August 1, 2023

A Christian think tank is spinning a hopeful narrative for MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) legislation expansion in Canada. 

As part of its four-part “summer series,” the Ottawa-based research group Cardus coordinated a panel discussion on the current state of assisted suicide across the country, considering different approaches for an alternate future without MAiD, which is set to expand even further early next year to offer the process to those suffering from mental health disorders.

“This is a very significant issue,” said Rebecca Vachon, Cardus’ Health Program director. “We’ve seen the government rapidly and radically expand euthanasia and assisted suicide as ‘MAiD,’ with other planned expansions coming up quickly, including the March 2024 expansion to allow for those whose sole underlying condition is mental illness to have assisted death. And many Canadians are requesting and receiving MAiD, to the point where the 2021 data had MAiD representing 3.3 per cent of total deaths in Canada that year.” 

The July 27 panel discussion, entitled “MAiD in Canada – How we got here and where we’re going,” featured Ray Pennings, Cardus’ executive vice president, physician Dr. Andrew Mai and psychiatrist Dr. Sephora Tang. Vachon was the moderator. 

“This is an issue Cardus is engaging with through our research — and we’ll have a number of reports coming out through the fall, but it’s also something we want to have good conversations about. This panel was one such opportunity, bringing together those with expertise in policy and politics, as well as psychiatry and mental health services, and palliative care provision,” said Vachon. 

Pennings believes the majority of Canadians conceptualize the MAiD debate in wrongly framed binaries. 

“The general public understands this debate as moral imposition or compassion,” he said. 

The leverage the “pro-MAiD” side boasts, Pennings suggests, lies in its marketing approach. 

“The other side has won by telling better stories,” he said. “They bring up the hard cases to prove their point, trying to convince others that death is the way to alleviate pain. Then, they tell these stories in a way that captivates public sympathy. We need to tell better stories. We need to show how people can die a good and happy death.”

Tang, a council member with the Ontario Psychiatric Association, is critical of the heavy-handed policy approach to handling assisted suicide.

“Why are we making this a medical issue? For the majority of people, the reasons they want to end their lives boil down to existential questions like loneliness, sadness or depression. This is something a pill won’t magically solve. Someone just needs a friend to lean on. We cannot look to the medical profession to solve a problem that doesn’t have a medical solution,” she said. 

Mai’s professional experience mirrors Tang’s option.

“Many people who choose MAiD are not suffering intolerably, other than being alive when they don’t want to be. It’s a fear of the future. It’s a fear of being a burden on loved ones,” he said.  

“The vast majority of people haven’t witnessed someone die. Though if they have, they die in extremis — in high or acute pain. So, it becomes very easy to tell the stories of how bad death can be and for people to make decisions out of fear,” continued Mai, a physician at Saint-Vincent Hospital in Ottawa.

Pennings believes it isn’t too late for change.

“There is more power in grassroots activism than politics. One thing I’ve learned from my experience in politics is that politicians don’t lead, they follow. They follow what they hear from the people around them. The legislation slated for March next year is not necessarily a done deal. There is still time.”

Cardus’ next summer series session, “Family on Flux,” will take place on Aug. 15 and will consider the role of the family in modern society. 

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