Speaking out against Medically Assisted Death in cases of mental health

·3 min read

Member of Parliament Rachael Harder of Lethbridge is speaking out against proposed senate amendments to Bill C-7, an Act to amend the criminal code (medical assistance in dying). When the act was tabled in the House of Commons last October, and passed in December, it proposed to permit Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) for individuals whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable (currently disallowed under bill C-14), and also remove the requirement for applicants to take a ten-day reflection period before qualifying. Still, the bill was meant to continue to prohibit MAID for “individuals whose sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness” (justice.gc.ca). According to MP Harder, senate amendments would alter that and allow mental illness to be the big reason someone requests assistance in dying.

MP Harder shared her concerns with the legislation in a recent interview with The Star, saying that the amendments “send a message that those with mental illness are not worth fighting for, that their lives can simply dissipate and somehow that’s okay.” She says “normalizing death in order to alleviate a person’s mental suffering is contrary to what we have been fighting for as a society for years now”. The proposed changes would fly in the face of suicide prevention campaigns, and a general fight to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

A Canadian Press article posted on February 14th of this year states that “the bill would expand access to a medically assisted death to include intolerably suffering individuals who are not nearing the natural end of their lives, bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling” (Commons must decide whether to accept or reject Senate amendments to assisted dying bill). The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a firm stance against this, stating “as a recovery-oriented organization, CMHA does not believe that mental illnesses are irremediable, though they may be grievous or unbearable. We recognize that people with mental illnesses can experience unbearable psychological suffering… but there is always the hope of recovery…people with a mental health problem or illness should be assisted to live and thrive”.

This is the position that MP Harder takes on the issue also, saying “we can provide the supports that these people need… and give them dignity, respect, and honour.” Instead, she feels that Bill C-7 would communicate “to these people and society at large, that death is an acceptable answer.” For citizens that agree with Harder, action can be taken to have your voice heard and protect all vulnerable Canadians with disabilities and mental illnesses. Harder suggests that “when it comes to taking a stand it looks like reaching out and writing a letter, or making a call to the justice minister.” These sort of decisions “can happen in the back chambers of Parliament Hill and not make it into our every-day lives. If we don’t act now and talk to friends, neighbours, and loved ones to make sure they are aware.” Harder’s team sent out an email yesterday to their supporters to increase public awareness on the issue, because there are indications given by the Liberal and Bloc parties that amendments will be accepted.

“I want to live in a Canada that believes in the value of every single human being and wants the lives of the vulnerable to be protected, but this is a dangerous road ahead” said Harder. While she believes suicide should never be normalized, the timing seems to make the problem extra poignant when “we know that the pandemic has resulted in greater mental health issues, with lockdowns and isolation resulting in suicide numbers going up.”

We do all we can to save lives that could be lost to the novel virus, but can we do more to save lives lost as a secondary consequence of the pandemic? “These people deserve a champion” she states, “and deserve all Canadians to stand with them and fight for their lives.”

Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star