In the next two years, it seems likely that Canadians will be able to choose assisted suicide if they have an “incurable mental illness.” It’s a frightening expansion of Canada’s assisted suicide and euthanasia policy.
Known as Bill C-7, it has been approved by the Senate and is supported by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The bill would “expand access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives, bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling.”
The bill as originally drafted did not extend assisted suicide to those with mental illness, but senators deemed it “unconstitutional” believing that “it violated the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability, as guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Thankfully, the bill does not allow individuals with Alzheimer’s to issues advance directives in the event that their condition begins to deteriorate, despite senators pushing for its inclusion.
It’s best to avoid these situations as they have a tendency to go terribly wrong.
In The Netherlands, the ability to issue an advanced directive resulted in one doctor having family members forcibly hold down an Alzheimer’s patient while she struggled for her life in order to administer a lethal dose of medicine under an advanced order. According to reports, while the patient did have an advanced directive regarding euthanasia, she wanted to determine when that was carried out, not a doctor. After a court hearing, the doctor was eventually cleared of wrongdoing.
Decades ago, the issue of mental health was something often kept within a family or simply not discussed openly. However, in recent years individuals, and celebrities as well, have been more vocal about the issue of mental health and the impact it can have on families. This is incredibly important, as those who need assistance should feel no shame in reaching out for help—but legalizing assisted suicide for these situations is a propound mistake.
As Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry wrote in Policy Options, “The main concern I wish to highlight is that legalizing assistance in dying for people whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable risks implying that some lives are not worth living and perpetuates a trend of finding individual medical solutions to social problems.
“The problem is not so much that people cannot reasonably judge, at an individual level, that their lives are not worth living. The problem is a political and social one: Bill C-7 opens a normative space in which various social actors, including medical experts and the state itself, can discuss the topic of ‘lives not worth living.’ This medical-legal space facilitates the cultural emergence of categories of human beings whose lives can be legally and morally disposed of. Since our society and our courts are barely aware of how ageist and ableist our culture is, this is a dangerous door to open.”
The idea of “life unworthy of life” developed in 1920s Germany with an essay of the same title written by attorney Karl Binding and psychiatrist Alfred Hoche. This belief influenced the Nazi regime, which started its mass killings with children and adults who had physical and mental disabilities, most of whom lived in state hospitals.
Creating a culture that does not value life in a less than ideal situations encourages others and society itself to label certain people as unworthy of life. This would increase ostracization and the reliance on death as a solution for certain medical situations, like mental illness and a condition like Down syndrome.
As Beaudry states, some of the people who could be eligible for this assisted suicide program, like a man struggling with schizophrenia, would benefit infinitely more from social programs or church support than the option of death under a doctor’s orders.
A life struggling with schizophrenia is not easy, for the person who suffers nor for family members, but receiving the proper medication and having good medical oversight can help that person lead as normal of a life as possible.
All life is precious, the Bible makes that clear. Death is not a medical solution to mental health conditions, and it’s frightening to see another country take that approach.
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