Canada will soon allow physician-assisted suicide for ‘irremediable’ mental illnesses
Warning: This article includes discussion of suicide. Links to tips and helplines are at the bottom of the article.
Next year, Canada will become one of the few countries in the world to allow patients with serious and incurable mental illnesses to request medical assistance in dying.
Assisted suicide – sometimes called euthanasia or medical assistance in dying (MAID) – to end the suffering of terminally ill adults first became legal in Canada in June 2016. In March 2021, the law was passed. amended to allow assisted dying for patients who had a “grievous and irremediable medical condition”, but not for reasons of mental illness, long-term disability or curable disease.
New law changewhich is expected to go into action in March 2023, will allow MAID to people whose only underlying condition is severe depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD or any other mental health condition deemed “irremediable” by any treatment.
To be eligible, people with psychiatric disorders must be 18 years or older, “mentally capable”, provide informed consent and show that their decision was not the result of outside pressure or influence.
However, expert opinion on this sensitive issue is mixed and it remains unclear how certain aspects of the amended law will be regulated.
A recent study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal examined MAID for people with irremediable psychiatric disorders in the Netherlands, where it has been regulated by law since 2002. This report details how difficult it is to define whether a disorder mental health is truly irremediable and incurable. Unlike a progressive or degenerative physical condition, most mental disorders lack “prognostic predictability”, which means that it is extremely difficult – some say impossible – to predict how the condition will progress or respond to treatment.
He also notes that around 90% of requests for MAID for people with mental illness are refused by psychiatrists in the Netherlands.
Speaking about Canada’s recent decision, Dr Sisco van Veen, one of the Dutch psychiatrists in the study, told the national post“In psychiatry, all you really have is the patient’s story, and what you see with your eyes and what you hear and what the family tells you.”
“I think there will be a lot of uncertainty about how to apply this in March 2023,” added Dr Grainne Neilson, former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and a forensic psychiatrist in Halifax, also speaking to the National Post. “I hope psychiatrists will act with caution and caution.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, help and support is available in the United States from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at1-800-273-8255. For Canada, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service can be called 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1.833.456.4566 or by text at 45645 (available 4 p.m. to midnight ET). In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. International helplines can be found at SuicideStop.com.