Mental Health Needs Treatment, Not MAID

Later this month, the Liberal government will table new legislation expanding access to medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Following a recent court ruling in Quebec—although they are under no legal obligation do so, federally—the Liberals have indicated they will expand the eligibility for MAID beyond its current threshold of death being “reasonably foreseen” to include those suffering from mental illness, mature minors (children) and advance directives.

When legalizing MAID was first debated in the House, I expressed my concerns with what a slippery slope this legislation would become. Now, less than four years later, I am sad to be proven right.

Many Canadian mental health professionals are pushing back against this latest move by the Trudeau Liberals, expressing their dismay that MAID access may be granted to those patients who have treatable illnesses.

So says Dr. John Mahar, a prominent Ontario psychiatrist and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Ethics in Mental Health. He writes:

“Under the specious guise of legal equality of access to a so-called medical act, Canadian legislators are considering the use of doctors as surrogates to end the lives of our fellow citizens who suffer from treatable mental illness.”

In a letter published by the CBC he goes on to say:

“I have been specializing in treatment-resistant [severe] mental illness for 17 years. I want to scream from the political and judicial mountaintop that “treatment resistant” does not mean untreatable… In reality, it means that every single person with severe mental illness can experience dramatic improvement in their symptoms and concomitant reductions in their suffering. The law currently requires that to be eligible for MAID, a patient must meet the standard of “grievous and irremediable” suffering. I have seen much grievous suffering that I acknowledge took months to several years to ameliorate, but I have yet to see a patient with irremediable suffering unless left untreated by inadequate availability of services.”

Rather than expanding MAID access to those with mental health issues we should be expanding our funding of mental health treatment.

In most provinces, the wait for mental health care ranges from one and five years. This leaves tens of thousands of Canadians suffering while they wait for treatment—small wonder some want to throw in the towel.

I was proud to vote against legalizing MAID in 2016 and I will vote against this proposed expansion. That said, I would be equally pleased and ready to vote in favour of a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy to deal with mental health issues in Canada.

Sadly, we’re still waiting.