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I hate to say that we were right but Canada’s law did not prevent euthanasia for mental illness

by | Nov 24, 2020

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Parliament is currently debating Bill C-7, a bill to expand Canada’s euthanasia law.

During the debate on Bill C-14 (enacted in 2016), we argued that since Bill C-14 did not define the phrase “natural death is reasonably foreseeable,” and since it did not define the term psychological suffering, therefore it did not prevent euthanasia for mental illness or limit it to terminally ill people. This absence of a definition in the bill would enable the law to be continuously expanded by doctors who support euthanasia.

In August 2019, Alan Nichols died by euthanasia in British Columbia, even after his family insisted that Alan was not competent to make this decision and that he was living with chronic depression

Referring to Bill C-7, Joan Bryden published an article for Canadian Press on November 22 titled “Exclusion of mental illness in assisted dying bill slammed by psychiatrists.”  

In her article Bryden writes: 

Vancouver psychiatrist Dr. Derryck Smith, who has personally been involved in two cases where people suffering solely from severe mental disorders received medical help to end their lives. And he says he knows of other similar cases.” …

One of the cases Smith took part in involved a woman of about 40 years old who suffered from a “severe, intractable eating disorder” and was intending to starve herself to death if she did not receive medical help to end her life.

“She was approved for assisted dying and received assisted dying just for a psychiatric illness, in this case anorexia nervosa

When Dr. Smith admits to being involved with cases of euthanasia on  the basis of mental illness alone, he is admitting that Bill C-14 did not prevent euthanasia for mental illness or even prevent euthanasia for a person who was not terminally ill. 

Bryden’s article includes many comments from governmental officials  explaining why under Bill C-7, a mental illness will “not be considered an illness, disease or disability” for the purpose of the law.

However, Bill C-7, also does not define psychological suffering or the meaning of natural death is reasonably foreseeable. Bill C-7 makes the situation worse because it also eliminates some key safeguards in the law.

If the government wants to exclude euthanasia for mental illness, Bill C-7 needs to define psychological suffering in a manner that excludes euthanasia for mental illness.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Euthanasia