While mental health care in Canada's public health care system is sorely lacking, it is not preventing the expansion of the country's Medical Assistance in Death (MAID) euthanasia practice to include people with mental health issues.
Canada's Globe and Mail became the latest in a succession of voices raising growing concerns regarding the expansion of the MAID program, writing, "This country is on the verge of providing publicly funded euthanasia for people suffering from diseases for which there is little publicly funded care." The publication is joining the ranks of people and organizations expressing concern that the law which allows for euthanasia by request is being used to target certain sects of the population.
The newspaper, which had previously supported the MAID program and the right of people who are mentally ill to have it as a "last resort" after years of failed treatment, has now become concerned with the expansion that it will encourage Canada's impoverished population to choose suicide rather than finding the financial support needed to get the mental health care that might prevent them from choosing suicide in the first place.
The editorial concluded with a scolding statement aimed at the MAID program and the Canadian government, "To be a laggard on mental health care spending, while implementing some of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world, is a moral failure."
The SIgnal, another publication of the University of King's College School of Journalism, interviewed a student who had attempted suicide at 14 and noted how dangerous the MAID program is, saying that she feared she would have been killed had the program been available at the time of her suicide attempt.
The student, Anais Pierre-Estime, said of the program, "Having that option out, it's very dangerous, especially for someone who's not being surveilled by a doctor or not receiving the help they need. As someone that really struggled to see my own worth, I know that a lot of people... struggle with that on a day-to-day basis." Pierre-Estime added, "You really don't know what's going through someone's mind. I'm scared for a lot of people."
Students and newspapers aren't the only concerned parties. The Association of Chairs of Psychiatry requested a postponement of the MAID expansion on December 1. The expansion is currently set to take effect on March 17, 2023.
The association, which includes the heads of psychiatry at all of the country's medical schools, believes that more time is needed to determine standards for suicide eligibility. Their concerns stem from a fear that Canadians in rural areas will lack access to mental health care and that citizens in urban areas will face inappropriately long wait times to receive the necessary care.
Dr. Jitender Sareen of the University of Manitoba said of the wait times, "We're in the middle of an opioid epidemic. And we're in the middle of a mental health pandemic. Post-COVID, wait times for access to treatment are the highest ever."
Others who have expressed concern about wait times and the MAID program, in general, include former Paralympic athlete and veteran Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons Veterans Committee on December 5 that when she requested a home wheelchair lift in 2019, she received a recommendation for the MAID program's euthanasia instead of assistance or support.
Gauthier told the committee, "I have a letter saying that if you're so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAID, medical assistance in dying." Gauthier later said in an interview, "I was like, 'I can't believe that you will... give me an injection to help me die, but you will not give me the tools I need to help me live.'"
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called Gauthier's experience "absolutely unacceptable." The House of Commons committee heard the same scenario from multiple other veterans. If wounded veterans are being offered death instead of physical assistance, then what hope is there for the mentally ill if Canada goes forward with the MAID program expansion?
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