“It could’ve been done already,” he said. “We’re hopeful. There has been blowback. The blowback has already caused this delay.”
“There are many groups of health care professionals who are actually leading the charge and saying this is an ill-conceived idea,” he added.
Even advocates who have not otherwise voiced opposition to MAiD expressed concern over its broadening to include mental illness.
Lauren Clegg at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health pointed toward the group’s statements on the medical suicide law. The group has “publicly expressed concern with the federal government’s intention to extend MAiD eligibility to people whose sole medical condition is mental illness at this time,” it said.
The group implied its concerns might be resolved if experts could answer “whether mental illness can be considered ‘grievous and irremediable’ for the purposes of MAiD, and what criteria should be used to determine if a person is suffering from an irremediable mental illness.”
Anita Federici, the clinical director at Ontario’s Centre for Psychology + Emotion Regulation, told CNA that, for many critics of the expansion, “the issue … is not whether or not MAiD should or can exist.”
“The bigger issues at present are (a) the manner in which terminality has been proposed and the harm this is causing, (b) poorly or ill-defined criteria for palliative and end-of-life decisions, (c) the complete absence of how MAiD and terminality disproportionately impact the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
In an article for the winter 2023 issue of the Ontario Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association’s Be Yourself magazine, Federici argued that individuals with eating disorders are “in an incredibly vulnerable position with respect to MAiD,” in part because of “substantial systemic barriers to care in the field of eating disorders.”
“[H]ow,” Federici wrote, “does one determine whether an eating disorder is incurable or intractable if most cannot access evidence-based care?”
Asked about stories like Pauli’s, Ary Maharaj with Toronto’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre suggested the group was understanding of the desire of severely mentally ill people to want to “end their pain and suffering” using assisted suicide.
But he argued that governments “should be investing in community well-being so as to reduce the social conditions that can cause and perpetuate mental illness.”
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Elia told CNA that activist efforts to push back against broader assisted suicide in Canada could bear fruit in the future.
“There’s some hope that some ray of light can prevail in the darkness of euthanasia,” he said.
Since its inception in 2016, more than 30,000 Canadians have used the country’s assisted suicide law to end their own lives. The majority of those who in 2021 received lethal medical doses cited cancer as their main underlying medical condition.
The Canadian government, meanwhile, estimates on its website that “1 in 3 Canadians (about 9.1 million people) will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime.”
The government’s website also offers assistance to Canadians who may be feeling suicidal, arguing that “globally, suicide is recognized as a significant public health issue.”