Instead of expanding the support and treatment program, Justin Trudeau’s government is going to give people experiencing mental health issues the option to commit suicide.
Canada’s euthanasia program, dubbed Medical aid in dying (MAID), has been the subject of much debate and controversy since its introduction in 2016. The initiative was originally intended to help terminally ill patients experiencing unbearable suffering. However, its unprecedented expansion is already planned for the near future: the Trudeau administration intends to start providing assisted dying to people with mental disorders or illnesses from March 2024. The Canadian government’s decision to allow the program has sparked a wave of concern and condemnation from doctors, human rights activists and public figures.
One of the main points of criticism of Canada’s expanded MAID program is ethical considerations. Mental health issues are complex and multifaceted, but most are treatable over the long term. By allowing people with mental disorders access to the MAID program, the Canadian government is accepting responsibility for the loss of lives whose lives are cut short prematurely and who could have eventually recovered through alternative treatments or therapies.
Allowing the MAID program to treat mental illness is the slippery slope that all new, ethically questionable medical procedures tend to take. Proponents of expanding the program argue that people with severe and untreatable mental illnesses should have the same rights as people with physical ailments. However, expanding the program may inadvertently lead to a broader definition of eligibility, which could result in the inclusion of people with less severe or treatable mental illnesses.
A significant disadvantage of expanding the MAID program to include mental illness is the potential for euthanasia with insufficient justification. While existing program rules provide protections for vulnerable populations, such as independent reviews, the unique challenges associated with mental health make it difficult to determine whether a person’s decision to seek MAID is truly voluntary or influenced by their mental health condition. The lack of clear guidelines and objective measures for assessing mental health disorders raises concerns about the potential for coerced decisions or based on a lack of necessary information about the treatability of an illness.
Doubts about the need to expand the MAID program have been raised by scientists and clinicians with years of experience. Dr. Sonu Gaind, chair of the MAID program evaluation team at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, argues that current science and medicine still cannot fully answer the question of whether some mental illnesses are truly incurable. According to the doctor, it is impossible to distinguish between a pathological suicidal person and someone who has a rational desire to end their life: “We don’t even understand the biology of most mental illnesses.” Dr. Gaind is convinced that even people who suffer from serious mental illnesses, such as depression, can and are treatable.
Criticism of the Canadian government’s intentions to expand the MAID program has been voiced by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Experts are convinced that the right of people with mental illness to receive necessary treatment rests with the Canadian government and is enshrined in international human rights legislation. In turn, Ottawa, according to the members of the association, does not fulfill its obligations, because people with mental disorders do not receive the necessary support and cannot live with dignity.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the Canadian government’s intention to extend the euthanasia program to people with mental disorders. The Foundation to Battle Injustice calls on the Trudeau administration to expand support and treatment programs for people with mental illness rather than trying to get rid of them through euthanasia.