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Treat People with Mental Health Problems: Don’t Kill Them by Euthanasia

by | Feb 2, 2024

In September 2023, the Angus Reid Institute survey revealed that most Canadians don’t support euthanasia also known as medical aid in dying (MAiD) for mental illness and want improvement in mental health care.

In just a few months, on March 17, 2024, Canadians with mental health problems would have been eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide. “This must never happen,” affirms Dr. Paul Saba.

Approximately 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. 

The family doctor is most often the first point of contact for someone with mental health problems before being referred to specialized care. 

In Quebec, the average waiting time between a referral to a psychiatrist and treatment is approximately 5 months. Meanwhile, the new law requires only a three month waiting period before euthanasia can be administered. In other words, the patient who wants to see a psychiatrist may have long died before even getting their first psychiatric appointment. 

According to family physician, Dr. Paul Saba, the desire to die is a symptom of mental illness. 

“Studies show that at least 90% of people who end their lives were affected by a mental disorder at the time of their suicide. A Harvard University study found that, with the right treatment and support – people don’t want to die.”

According to the study: 9 out of 10 people who attempted suicide but were unsuccessful in their attempt did not commit suicide following treatment. 

Most psychiatrists do not support the legalization of euthanasia for the mentally ill because of the increased risks for certain groups such as women, young adults, the poor, and other marginalized groups. Also, psychiatrists cannot determine without a doubt who is irremediable.

From a legal standpoint, the request for medical assistance in dying for those with mental illness does not meet the condition of free and informed consent. The more a person lives with mental illness, the less capable they are of giving free and informed consent.

The recent COVID pandemic increased mental health problems with the greatest impact on young adults, the poor, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, aboriginal persons, women and other marginalized groups. 

Dr. Saba deplores that:  

“Canada’s social and healthcare system lacks resources for people with mental health problems.”

To provide optimal mental health care, the family doctor needs the support of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other specialists who are often not available for lengthy periods due to shortages causing wait times.

“Canada has a responsibility to improve the healthcare system for people with mental health problems. This includes assuring rapid access to psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Canada must also ensure access to a wide variety of treatments, including art, music, dance, pet, recreation, individual and group therapy and other alternative therapies.

“In addition, Canada must ensure free medications, affordable housing, and food security.” 

Finally, Dr. Saba insists that “Canada must become a society that provides the best care for people with mental health needs. We must treat them and not kill them through euthanasia.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Euthanasia