Adam Maier-Clayton's assisted-dying advocacy work will continue after his death

After son's suicide, father pushes for assisted dying for mentally ill

Adam Maier-Clayton is continuing to be a voice for doctor-assisted dying for people with mental health struggles even in death, according to advocates.

The 27-year-old told CBC News in October he has battled anxiety, mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder since he was a child — conditions he said caused pain that felt like "being burned with acid."

The Windsor man took his own life last week, leading his mother to write on Facebook she was "devastated."

Before his death, Maier-Clayton spoke to several specialists and advocates of doctor-assisted dying, including Dr. Ellen Wiebe, professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia. 

"When he asked me whether I could assist him, I said — first of all — he didn't quality under our law because his natural death wasn't in the foreseeable future," she told CBC News. "Also, I would really have difficulty assisting someone so young with a non-terminal illness."

Maier-Clayton also repeatedly spoke with Philip Nitschke, founder of the end-of-life advocacy group Exit International.

"He had a lot of questions," Nitschke said. "He always made it clear that given he didn't see any way that Canadian law would recognize his needs he would probably take the step himself, that is to exercise the option of ending his own life."

Legislation does not apply to mental illness

Canada's assisted-dying legislation does not apply to patients with mental illness. The law only applies to adults in an "advanced stage of irreversible decline" facing a "reasonably foreseeable death" from an incurable illness.

The government has launched a review of the legislation, tasking the Council of Canadian Academies to study, among other issues, whether the law could be broadened to encompass patients suffering strictly from mental illness.

Nitschke said most of the people he works with are in their 70s, making Maier-Clayton unusual.

"The fact that his family supported him gave a lot of weight to the story he was telling me, which was of the fairly miserable life he was leading," Nitschke added.

The Exit founder said he spoke with Maier-Clayton in the days leading up to his death and that he seemed rational, calm and measured.

Dying with Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool said Maier-Clayton's relative youth made many people "uncomfortable," but also served to prompt some difficult conversations.

"Adam asked a lot of really difficult questions in the past year, and I think now with his suicide, we're at a point where we really need to start engaging in the conversation of mental illness and medical assistance in dying in a very meaningful way," she told CBC's As It Happens.

Maier-Clayton shared his struggle through social media, videos and in interviews with media, an effort Gokool said helped "push the envelope."

"You feel some relief that his suffering is over," she said. "I think it's up to the rest of us now to ask ourselves: Do we want to arbitrarily discriminate against people who have mental illness?"

'He wanted his death to mean something'

Nitschke said he had invited Maier-Clayton to participate in a Toronto conference about assisted death in October, but the young man would only promise to attend if he was "still here." Now, a special tribute will be held during the time when he was scheduled to speak.

In life, Nitschke said Maier-Clayton did a "great deal of good" and drew attention to "rational suicide." Now that he's gone, that legacy continues.

"What Adam did is draw attention to the fact that the legislation in Canada … is not helpful to people who have chronic psychiatric illnesses that can lead to a tremendous amount of suffering, but in no way can be seen as terminal illnesses," said Nitschke. "He made it clear to me that he wasn't just interested in a peaceful death, he wanted his death to mean something,"