In the wake of Adam Maier-Clayton's suicide, Charles Lewis writes that a civilized society should continually find ways to cure all sorts of diseases, physical and mental, not expand euthanasia rights. Photo/YouTube via Adam Maier-Clayton,

Comment: Tragedy is not a case for more euthanasia rights

  • May 5, 2017

In mid-April The Globe & Mail gave two days of coverage to the suicide of Adam Maier-Clayton, just 27 years old. He lived for years with a variety of psychiatric disorders and unremitting pain. There is no doubt he knew suffering.

The Globe chose to use his death as a way to make an argument in favour of extending our current euthanasia law to those with mental illness, something forbidden under the current federal law.

In December, Health Canada struck a committee to look at extending euthanasia rights to the mentally ill and teenagers. It is supposed to report late next year.

I believe the Globe felt they justified turning this tragedy into a policy statement because Mr. Maier-Clayton wrote an essay in the Globe in 2016 outlining his medical situation and his plea to extend euthanasia to quell severe mental anguish for him and others.

“Of course, for everyone who’s sick, we have to do everything we can to make them better,” he wrote in 2016. “It’s true that it’s incredibly difficult to get really good quality help when you have mental illnesses. Do I think the mental-health system needs major adjustments? Of course. It makes no sense to give people the right to die if they haven’t accessed help. But no matter how much funding we put into mental-health programs, there are always going to be issues because we don’t have the cures for these ailments. Some people are confined to lives of truly horrifying amounts of suffering that no amount of treatment can stop.”

He continued: “To people who are so extremely ill that no amount of treatment will make them better, and they want to die, it’s nonsensical to not give them access to death. Because first of all, it confines them to a lifetime of pain. And second — and this is an incredibly important point: People who want to die are going to die.”

In the Globe news story that ran on April 17 it quoted a recent online post from Mr. Maier-Clayton that said that we could only consider ourselves “a civilized society” by allowing the mentally ill the right to die.

Many people will have sided with Mr. Maier-Clayton. We now live in a society in which death is a medical option and the only remaining debate is how wide to cast the killing net.

Mr. Maier-Clayton’s death was a tragedy. His anguish and desperate plea for a way out was understandable. But the Globe’s use of it to push for more death was warped.

Several things here are worth noting. For years many newspapers refused to run suicide stories. It was felt that such items might glamorize suicide and lead to copycats. There was also a larger sense that these terrible tragedies had no inherent public interest.

When these stories did run, often in the case of celebrities or suicide epidemics that often plague communities, they were often accompanied by sidebars to alert readers to the potential signs of suicide among their own family or friends. The point of these sidebars was not to abet a suicide but to stop a potential tragedy from becoming reality.

That kind of warning now seems like something out of ancient history.

I mourn this young man’s death. I feel too for his family and friends who must be devastated by his final desperate act. I know exactly what it is like to suffer pain for years and I am also too familiar with depression and breakdowns.

But he was wrong about what the reaction should be of a civilized society. What a civilized society should do is continually find ways to cure all sorts of diseases, physical and mental, and find ways to help those most in need deal with their pain. That is what we used to call decent.

The story about Mr. Maier-Clayton could have been about many things: how the system might have failed him, how many cases are like his in Canada and the sort of progress medical science has made in helping desperate people. It could have urged all of us to make sure that no one feels so desperate that at such an early age all his or her hope is seemingly gone.

On April 18, the following day, the paper’s medical specialist, André Picard, concluded that those like Mr. Maier-Clayton should not have to wait for the law to catch up with public sentiment.

“We should not discriminate or deny people rights because it makes us queasy or because of our prejudices,” Mr. Picard wrote.

Queasy? Yes, I feel queasy and I am glad I do. God save me from ever feeling that suicide is normal or desirable or good. Prejudice? Yes, I am prejudiced against the loss of hope and the destruction of lives. And I fear comments like Mr. Picard’s are what is passing for sanity these days.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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