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Advocates emphasize the need for suicide prevention measures over MAiD for mentally ill Canadians

Susan KorahSpeakers at a rally on Parliament Hill demanded the federal government provide more life-saving supports for those deeply suffering from mental illness rather than giving them access to medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

Expanding MAiD to people solely based on mental illness was to begin Mar. 17, but Bill C-62 is calling for the proposed legislation to be delayed by three years. Bill C-62 has already passed in the House of Commons and is currently being debated in the Senate.

Critics of the expansion emphasize that while the delay is welcome, opening the door to MAiD for the mentally ill is a dangerous and unacceptable option and should be shelved forever.

“Mental illness distorts reality, and if I had the opportunity to choose MAiD when I was going through a dark period in my life, I wouldn’t be alive today,” said Lia Milousis, a 27-year-old Ottawa lawyer, one of the speakers at a press conference organized by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition before the rally.

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Today, Milousis epitomizes career success and personal fulfilment, but there was a time in her life when she was haunted by dark, suicidal thoughts.

“When I was 15, my life became very lacklustre,” she said. “The colour drained from my world, and life became very dark.”

After six months she recovered, only for her depression to return, she said.

“The pain became intolerable,” she said. “I thought the future would be one of existential suffering. I attempted to take my own life.”

Not knowing how to carry out her suicidal wish and because there was no access to MAiD on the sole basis of mental health saved her life.

“Even a life with immense suffering is worth living,” she said. “It is deeply disturbing to think that Canadians will have access to MAiD solely on the basis of mental illness. If there was MAiD available for people in my situation, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

She called on the government to adopt measures for suicide prevention rather than assistance to die and to acknowledge the inherent dignity of life.

Paul Saba, a Montreal family physician, warned that allowing MAiD for people with mental illness is opening a dangerous door and paving the way to extending it to more vulnerable and marginalized people.

Saba pointed out that the mentally ill often have other acute problems, such as poverty, lack of food security and affordable housing. He challenged the government to tackle those issues rather than offer death as a solution.

“There are alternative therapies such as art and music therapy and pet recreation, but these are not available to the majority of mentally ill people,” he said.

Conservative MP Ed Fast introduced Bill C-314, which would have stopped the expansion of MAiD for mental illness. The bill was defeated in the House of Commons late last year. Asserting that he was not a sore loser, he said that he had spoken of going down a slippery slope at the time.

“We were accused of fear-mongering, but today, we are witnessing the (possible) expansion of MAiD to the most vulnerable when we are going through a number of national crises such as a mental health crisis and an opioid addiction crisis,” said Fast.

Furthermore, he said there is no agreement among professionals on what constitutes “irremediability,” a term applied to situations, conditions, or issues that are beyond resolution, repair, or improvement, and is used particularly in the context of those eligible for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

Fast said there was pressure from the government to speed up committee deliberations on his bill, adding that 900 submissions were not adequately considered or even translated to the second official language.

“(MPs) are addressing matters of life and death, and we didn’t spend enough time to do this properly,” he said.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, agreed that although the postponement of the expansion is welcome, it is far better to provide solutions to poverty and other problems that the mentally ill grapple with than to give them MAiD as a choice.

A rally was held outside parliament following the press conference, with members of Campaign Life Coalition and the Quebec Life Coalition joining the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

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

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