Two women who have suffered from mental illness recently joined a physician at the parliamentary press gallery in Ottawa to explain why medically assisted death should not be made available to the mentally ill.
The media event was held Oct. 3 in support of Bill C-314, two days before the legislation underwent second reading in the House of Commons. The private member’s bill crafted by Conservative MP Ed Fast would remove mental illness as an eligible criteria for medical assistance in dying (MAiD).
The speakers were introduced by Euthanasia Prevention Coalition president Gordon Friesen. He said making MAiD accessible to the mentally ill constituted a “discriminatory danger.”
Anike Morrison said she lost her brother in 2014 and had “several traumas and stressors” thereafter. This led to five hospitalizations in 2018 and a five-week stay on an acute psychiatric unit.
“When I was discharged, my father had to keep my medication in his room to keep me safe. And at one point, I was so depressed, I didn’t leave the bed or the couch for weeks on end, leading to my sister becoming so concerned that she called the ambulance,” Ms. Morrison said.
If MAiD had been presented to her as a solution to the emotional pain and distress she was experiencing during that time, she said, she might have opted for it. But thanks to the medical help she received, she recovered.
“I’ve completed my undergraduate degree, I’ve travelled, I’ve gone on a mission trip. And most importantly, I love my life, I enjoy my life, and I feel as though I’m on the other side of that dark period.”
Ms. Morrison said that “psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacists, [and] social workers” helped her “move through” that difficult period, and that should be the focus of health professionals, not helping those who are suicidal to die.
“As Canadians we can’t do both. We can’t put our emphasis on preventing suicide while also presenting MAiD as an option for people with mental illness ... [or] who are experiencing poverty or homelessness or PTSD or who have a disability,” she said.
Garifalia Milousis, a lawyer, said she had suffered from depression since the age 15, and survived anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, and seven suicide attempts.
“The argument is that those who are suicidal are irrational while those who want MAiD are rationally choosing to die. But if you had told me while I was suffering that I could have MAiD and escape the suffering, I would have taken it,” she said.
“Death was not something I pursued because it was what I wanted, it was something I pursued because I thought it was the last solution to the suffering I was experiencing.”
Ms. Milousis said prior to the passage of Bill C-7 in 2021 to expand MAiD eligibility to those with mental illness, she wrote to all the MPs and senators to express her opposition.
“Any differentiating between suicide and MAiD is nonsensical, and we have almost recognized this by how we have expanded euthanasia to include individuals whose only underlying condition is a mental illness,” she said.
“I have watched society debate this academically and I ask people to consider how it will impact individuals like me.”
Expansion DelayedMAiD was set to be expanded to include individuals whose sole condition is mental illness in March 2023, but the federal government postponed it for a year to give provinces and medical professionals time to prepare. The moratorium expires March 17, 2024.
Speaking at the Oct. 3 media event, Montreal physician Dr. Paul Saba said one-in-five Canadians experience mental illness but less than half of them seek treatment. About 4,000 Canadians die of suicide each year.
Dr. Saba said most people needing treatment first talk to their doctor, but the shortage of physicians and mental health professionals hinders adequate help. He said the average wait time in Quebec between a referral and receiving mental health treatment is five months, yet MAiD is available after a 90-day waiting period. He called euthanasia for the mentally ill, “killing those who need to be cared for.”
“As caregivers we have to help our patients find a reason to live. No one actually wants to die by suicide. People just want to end their distress. ... Ninety percent of people who attempt a suicide and receive treatment don’t want to die.” Dr. Saba said.
“Mental illness does not meet the legal condition for free and informed consent for medical aid in dying. The more a person struggles with mental illness, the less likely they are to meet the criteria for free and informed consent.”