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Expanding MAiD to the mentally ill takes us down a slippery slope, critics warn

Susan KorahCanada is already too far down the slippery slope with regard to medically assisted dying and should aim for “living with dignity” as opposed to “dying with dignity,” say proponents of more compassionate alternatives for the mentally ill and other vulnerable populations.

The Liberal government’s latest move – the introduction of Bill C-62 to postpone for three years the decision to introduce a contentious bill to expand MAiD to people on the sole basis of mental illness – is seen as a reprieve by stakeholders.

Bill C-62 has passed its third reading in the House of Commons, but those opposing the expansion insist it would be far better to scrap the expansion altogether and not to open the door to medically assisted dying solely on the basis of mental illness.

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The proposed delay was recommended by a report of the Special Joint Committee on MAiD tabled on Jan. 29, 2024. Chaired by Senator Yonah Martina and René Arsenault, MP for Madawaska – Restigouche, New Brunswick, the report noted that the medical system in Canada is not prepared for medical assistance in dying when mental disorder is the sole underlying reason. It also called for more consultation with provincial and territorial counterparts and indigenous peoples.

“We (the Conservative Party) are working for a complete stop to the expansion of MAiD to the mentally ill,” Ed Fast, Member of Parliament for Abbotsford, BC, told me. “The three-year delay is welcome, but we prefer to pause it indefinitely. Our role as legislators is to protect people.”

Fast said the postponement was a politically motivated decision by the Liberal government to avoid dealing with it before the next federal election to be held no later than October 2025 (a complaint that was categorically denied by Justice Minister Arif Virany in an interview with CTV’s Vassy Kapelos).

“There’s very little or no support from Canadians,” Fast added. “Pushing this latest expansion to the mentally ill is based on a misunderstanding of human life and dignity. The assumption is that death is the preferred option.”

He said the Liberal government is committed to implementing the expansion and is promoting a culture of death instead of providing supports for those suffering from mental illness.

“When they (the Liberals) first introduced MAiD in 2016, I spoke out against it and warned that Canada was going down a slippery slope with this. History has proven that the slippery slope is steeper than ever.”

Cautioning that the expansion of MAiD to the mentally ill would only pave the way to the use of it for children and other vulnerable groups, he said: “We will win the next election, rescind the bill altogether and replace it with additional supports for the mentally ill and others.”

Fast’s sentiments were echoed by Garnett Genuis, Conservative MP for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan.

“When I talk to people about the (possible) expansion of MAiD to the mentally ill, they are horrified,” he said. When the government passed Bill C-7 (a bill passed in 2021 to give suffering Canadians not near death the right to seek medical assistance in dying), they created a dangerous mechanism. Testimonies from witnesses showed that it led to some people being pushed aggressively towards MAiD. Canadians want recovery and hope, not assisted death.”

The proposed expansion is also not supported by all MPs of the Liberal Pary,

“The three-year pause is welcome, but I prefer the pause to be indefinite,” Marcus Polowski, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, told me.

Polowski is a medical doctor with over 25 years of experience, including in the emergency room at Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre, in First Nations communities, and in Africa. He has also worked as a consultant in health legislation for the WHO.

“A lot of the cases of medically assisted death are very questionable,” he said. There is growing disquiet in the psychiatric community about this. “People who are mentally ill do get better. Offering MAiD without safeguards is not a humane society’s approach.”

Elinor Bentley-Taylor agrees with Polowski that there is growing disquiet in the mental health professional community.

Bentley-Taylor is a registered clinical counsellor, as are her colleagues who are affiliated with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors. She said she is dismayed at the government’s lack of consultation with its professionals regarding the implementation of MAiD.

“We are all registered psychotherapists, and as the largest group of mental health professionals in British Columbia, we think it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the government claims to have exercised due diligence in this matter without our involvement,” she told me. “There are so many alternatives for the mentally ill to medically assisted dying,” she added. “Examples are faith-based and spiritual counselling, art therapy and brain training.”

She is organizing a petition to halt the expansion of medical assistance in dying to cases where mental illness is the sole underlying condition.

“We have gathered over 200 signatures so far,” she said. The petition urges the Trudeau government to reconsider this expansion of MAiD and to engage in a meaningful dialogue with mental health professionals to safeguard the well-being of all Canadians, especially the most vulnerable.

After its third reading in the House, Bill C-62 will go to the Senate. The final vote deciding whether the bill becomes law will be held before Mar. 1.

Susan Korah is an Ottawa-based journalist. This article was submitted by The Catholic Register.

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