CNS photo/Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters

Better mental health care over more assisted death: poll

  • October 6, 2023

Four in five Canadians (82 per cent) oppose expanding euthanasia eligibility further without first improving mental health care services, according to a new poll co-released by the Angus Reid Institute and Canadian think tank Cardus.

“This poll is identifying that Canadians view euthanasia as a last resort and not a decision that should be permitted to Canadians with other options,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “Considering the nature of Canada’s law, I suggest that the opposition to the law would even be greater if Canadians understood how the MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) law works.

“If people realized that a person who is approved for MAiD based on mental illness would be allowed to be killed in 90 days without attempting effective treatment that support would probably drop further.”

Sunday, March 17, 2024, is the date individuals solely suffering from a mental illness are set to become eligible for the MAiD procedure. Of the 1,872 adults who completed the survey, 940 reject the forthcoming widened parameters. More strikingly, of the 533 participants who overall endorse the increased permissibility, 69 per cent stated it should not move forward until mental health access across the country is paid proper attention.

Rebecca Vachon, the program director of Cardus Health, said these apprehensions are justified.

“When looking at the barriers people experience with accessing mental health care, and the challenges that they face, it is understandable that there is a concern that the existing system needs help,” said Vachon.

Evidently, one-in-three Canadians sought mental health support over the past year either through professional help, information on the Internet, wellness phone apps or prescription drugs, to name a few.

Nineteen per cent (365 participants) specifically sought help from a mental health professional. Of this grouping, 11 per cent accessed the care they needed with ease, while the other eight per cent said they encountered difficulty. If this eight-per-cent figure holds true for the entire Canadian population, it would mean three million citizens had trouble accessing mental health care, the data shows.

Vachon is advocating for another pause of the MAiD expansion because she said the health-care system will not be ready.

“It is absolutely not enough time,” said Vachon, who formerly taught public policy analysis and public administration courses at the University of Ottawa. “There were so many concerns that were raised prior to the original date of expansion, which was supposed to be last March. All sorts of mental health associations raised issues with how the expansion would work with irremediability, and how you would define if mental health issues were irremediable.

“There were also concerns shared about the barriers that currently exist, particularly for people with lower income, or are living in remote areas or have experienced chronic problems accessing health care in general.”

Participants in the survey suggest the state of mental health could deteriorate further if reforms are not enacted before next year’s expansion. About 52 per cent “worry that treating mental health will not be a priority if MAiD eligibility is expanded to include individuals whose sole condition is mental illness.” A more robust 65 per cent agreed “populations with existing challenges in accessing mental health care will be made more vulnerable if MAiD eligibility is expanded.”

Conservative MP Ed Fast made an attempt to indefinitely pause the expansion by tabling Bill C-314. The intent of this legislation was to allow the government and public health system the breathing room to complete a thorough look into whether moving forward is truly the correct course.

No action has been taken on this bill since it was debated at second reading on May 17. On that day Liberal and Bloc Québécois speakers, Gary Anandasangaree and Luc Thériault, signaled an intent to oppose Bill C-314. However, NDP MP Alistair MacGregor said he would “take a lot of time to think about which way I want to go with this bill.”

Public sentiment is distinctly on Fast’s side at the current juncture, according to the data.

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