Stop MAiD expansion, then abolish MAiD

  • February 15, 2024

On Jan. 29, federal Minister of Health Mark Holland introduced legislation seeking a three-year delay in the extension of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to those suffering from mental illness.

If the legislation is passed, it will be a reprieve of sorts — but not a victory.

For some inexplicable reason, the Liberal government is intent on empowering the health-care system to end the lives of those whose sole underlying medical condition  (SUMC) is a mental disorder (MD). A quick read of the Feb. 1 press release makes it obvious the government regards this as a done deal.

All that is needed is “more time” for governments to prepare their health-care systems and practitioners “to participate in training and become familiar with available supports, guidelines and standards,” says the press release.

A close read of the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying  tabled on Jan. 29 gives one the sense the committee’s starting point was that MAiD will inevitably be offered to the mentally ill and that consultations are merely to iron out the details rather than to explore whether or not this should be done in the first place.

Indeed, there’s plenty of intense opposition from those in the psychiatric and psychological communities who cite serious, insurmountable concerns about extending MAiD to people living with mental disorders.  

The Committee’s report itself contains a laundry list of these concerns, including:

• “it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict the long-term prognosis of a person with a mental disorder”;

• “Some witnesses told the committee that there is no way to distinguish requests for MAID MD-SUMC from suicidality”;

• “The committee heard that many psychiatrists do not support the practice of MAID MD-SUMC… with some suggesting that the majority of psychiatrists are not in favour of MAID MD-SUMC”;

• “Some witnesses expressed concern about how socio-economic or psychosocial vulnerabilities may contribute to requests for MAID MD-SUMC”;

• “…the failure to afford Criminal Code protections against death to the most vulnerable, including people with disabilities and mental disorders, is itself discriminatory and unconstitutional.”

These points themselves are enough to stop the process in its tracks.

All throughout the consultation process, dozens of experts and practitioners from such places as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of Toronto, among many others, have expressed these and other views opposing this latest direction of MAiD.

Frequently mixed in with their strong statements are phrases referring to “not being ready yet” or “needing more time.” One wonders if these were thrown in to appease government authorities, bend to peer pressure or acknowledge the inevitability of the government’s will.

The fact of the matter is, with most of these concerns, three years of further consultations are going to make little or no difference.

Those closest to the mentally ill have spoken out and, while there may not be 100-per-cent consensus among these professionals and people with lived experience, concerns are deep enough that the whole notion of MAiD being offered to people whose sole underlying medical condition is a mental disorder must be scrapped.

Despite the seemingly inevitable expansion of doctor-assisted suicide, there is hope.

The reprieve of three years is enough time to halt the expansion by taking action: sending Members of Parliament letters, signing petitions, supporting psychiatric groups and associations in speaking out, writing letters to the editor, posting messages on social media, among other potential actions.

A great place to start is to connect with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, a London, Ont.-based group that organizes campaigns, disseminates information, monitors developments here and around the world, among its many activities.

For instance, the Coalition will be holding a rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27 at 11 a.m. to demand that the legislation to prevent MAiD for mental illness be passed. Its recent campaign on the same issue saw thousands of people sending postcards to their MPs.

But stopping the expansion is only the first step. We need to vigorously challenge the existing MAiD law with a view not only to narrowing its scope and practice, but eventually, to outlawing medically assisted dying altogether.

It’s not impossible. Witness the overturn of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., effectively ending almost 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion. Abortion is now banned across a large swath of the U.S.

Let’s do the same for MAiD in Canada.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer specializing in research at an Ontario university.)

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