OPINION: Questioning the ethics of MAiD for mental illness

Feb 1, 2024 | OP-ED, Opinion

Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) legislation has faced ethical challenges with the inclusion of mental illness as an eligible category for assisted suicide.

Passing a law that can allow someone to take their life in their darkest times is irresponsible. Unlike many terminal physical illnesses, mental health disorders often have the potential for improvement or recovery.

Treatments, including medication, therapy, and social support, can lead to significant improvements in quality of life.

The decision for MAID, once executed, is irreversible, closing the door to potential recovery and future advancements in mental health treatments.

Crucially, mental competence is required when making end-of-life judgements.

In situations involving schizophrenia or depression, individuals may lack control over their thoughts and feelings, potentially choosing to end their suffering without exploring treatments that could have been beneficial.

In a physically terminal case, the individual is of sound mind but the body betrays them. In the case of a mentally ill individual, the mind is the part that betrays them.

To effectively implement this law, it is crucial to have concrete, indisputable evidence defining what constitutes a terminal mental illness.

This requires conducting thorough studies that quantify and validate the methods and practices used to determine whether an individual’s condition is indeed terminal.

The critical term to focus on in this context is safety. The purpose of the legislation is to establish methods for safely administering MAID, specifically for individuals whose sole qualifying condition is mental illness.

As they are currently, the eligibility criteria for MAID are too loosely defined when it comes to mental illnesses.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention opposes this legislation, emphasizing the need for comprehensive treatment and care before introducing an option for premature death.

The lack of clarity is unsurprising, given the insufficient education and research surrounding the debate.

With no clear guidelines, Canada is ill-equipped to handle the consequences of allowing the mentally ill to end their lives.

The funding for mental health care as compared to physical health care is lacking in Canada, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said in a submission last November.

The inconsistent provincial health care plans mean the Canadians have not had access to evidence-backed aid that could potentially help them recover, the submission said.

Around 44,000 Canadians have been granted permission for MAID for a “grievous and irredeemable” medical prognosis since 2016.

In the last three years, there has been an increase in cases of around 30 per cent per year, according to the fourth annual report on MAID in Canada, published in 2022.

Opening the door for any mental illness to be considered “terminal” is unconscionable.

Some progress has been made over the last decade to undo the stigma surrounding topics of mental health.

Making a risky move that may change how the mentally ill are perceived in our society is a grave mistake.

Nobody should have the right to play judge, jury and executioner.