Canadian law to allow people with mental illnesses to receive medical assistance in dying


Trigger Warning: suicide and suicidal thoughts

In mid-March, Canada will expand its medical assistance in dying services to include people with mental illnesses. Currently restricted to individuals with serious and incurable diseases, the medical assistance in dying law (MAID) allows Canadians to die by suicide with the help of the medical industry. 

Eligibility requirements for MAID include being at least 18 years old, eligible for publicly funded health care services, being in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability, and making a voluntary request for MAID services that are not the result of external pressure – among other requirements. 

On March 17, Canadians who meet the above criteria and have conditions in a psychiatric area like depression will also be eligible for MAID services. 

Safeguards in MAID are in place for anyone whose death is reasonably foreseeable. These include a written statement in front of a healthcare worker, an assessment by a healthcare worker to verify that all criteria are met, and the patient is informed that they can take back their consent for MAID. 

FHSU Assistant Professor of Political Science, Jay Steinmetz, who specializes in American politics and public law, expects laws similar to MAID to be passed in more states in America. Oregon was the first state to begin giving lethal doses of drugs to patients in 1997. Currently, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and New Mexico have laws similar to MAID. 

“I suspect a lot of other states have toyed with or talked about passing legislation that gives a right to die,” Steinmetz said.

Steinmetz talks about the potential users of MAID, like those with diseases, and what their lives would be like if they didn’t receive assistance in dying, thanks to the current laws in their state that prohibits it. 

“We do know statistically from failed suicides that people who try to commit suicide and ultimately live is extremely high,” Steinmetz said. “Nearly 80 or 90 percent of people who tried to commit suicide regret their attempt of committing suicide and are thankful that they failed.”

Since 2018, the official website for the Government of Canada states they have an incomplete data collection of who is requesting and receiving MAID, and for what reasons. 

In response to the law being revised in March to include people with mental health, Steinmetz is wary of the results that can come from it, saying both physical health and mental health ailments have a different effect on the quality of life. 

“That’s a stickier one. I’m a little more skeptical of the law in that respect,” Steinmetz said. “I think mental health issues are qualitatively different than a lot of other biological and incurable diseases.”

A poll done in the United States in 2021 by the nonprofit organization Compassion and Choices, showed that younger voters in the 18 to 44 range are more likely to be in favor of MAID laws than older voters ranging between 45 to 65 and older. 

Support for MAID continues to grow as 55 percent of 5,000 doctors polled in the same survey said medical assistance in dying by a physician should be legal, while 28 percent said no and 17 percent said it depends. Compassion & Choices hopes that half of the U.S. population can access MAID by 2028. 

When asked if MAID goes against the Hippocratic oath of “do no harm” that medical providers take in their careers,  Patrick McGinnis, a mental health counselor at FHSU said he saw issues with how MAID and taking care of patients interacted. 

“My initial gut reaction to that (MAID) would be no, I don’t think it’s helping someone,” McGinnis said. “I much prefer no matter what, I have to do everything in my power to keep this person alive. That makes more sense to me logically.”

McGinnis explains the only exception to his confidentiality as a counselor is to make sure that his patient and those around them are safe. 

“I’m supposed to get them help, so it runs in direct opposition to what my ethical code is,” McGinnis said, disagreeing with the moral standards of MAID. 

McGinnis calls the Canadian law “dangerous business,” arguing that the government should have no involvement in the psychiatric industry to the extent that it has with MAID. 

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

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