By Lily Canete-Goodine
By March of 2023, Canadians struggling with severe mental illness will be given the option of medically assisted death. Previously, this procedure was limited to those over eighteen with chronic, untreatable, or degenerative diseases and disabilities. These include advanced Alzheimer’s disease and late-stage cancer. However, the new decision will extend this aid to certain eligible patients with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more.
MAID, or “medical aid in dying,” refers to a procedure in which a medical professional terminates the life of a patient suffering from a terminal illness at the patient’s direction. This process was made legal in Canada in 2016 by the federal government. Over the years, it has been edited and revised and, as of March 2023, severe mental illness will be a viable criterion for eligibility.
However, there are still lots of questions regarding this new decision. How can extreme mental suffering be measured? Who exactly will be eligible for MAID? While diseases like Alzheimer’s can easily be classified as incurable, it is virtually impossible to determine whether or not a specific mental illness is chronic to a point where it is no longer treatable. As a result, this decision has faced many controversies within the psychiatric community.
Some experts believe that new treatments, therapies, and medications can always be tested to help improve the lives of those suffering. As such, there are worries that this new decision will be used for patients as a replacement for quality treatment and healthcare.
“The broadening of MAID to the mentally ill concerns me on humanitarian, ethical, social justice, and legal grounds,” explained Danita Kagan, a sociology professor at Humber College. “There is no escaping the fundamental contradiction at the heart of this issue, namely that it is absurd to suggest that certain individuals are both mentally ill and cognitively impaired whilst simultaneously embracing the notion that they are ‘mentally competent’ to make a huge terminal decision about themselves.”
However, other medical professionals recognize the hardship of mental illness and the relief that MAID could provide for those struggling.
Either way, extending medically assisted death for mental illness is ground-breaking. In just a few months, Canada will join the ranks of only a few European nations where it is already permitted. Nevertheless, it will be necessary to wait for March to see how much this decision will benefit or harm patients and their families in order to judge it fully.