Instead of providing support and hope for individuals with a mental illness or substance use disorder, Canada is providing them the means to pursue their death through the medical assistance in dying (MAID) law starting in March 2024.1 Currently under the MAID law, which took effect in 2016, individuals who meet the following criteria are eligible to end their life through medical assistance:
- have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability,
- be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability, and
- have enduring and intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated under conditions the person considers acceptable.2
Initially, the law mandated that a person’s natural death must be foreseeable, however, this was eliminated in 2021 to preserve individual autonomy and freedom of choice regarding end-of-life decisions.2 The consequences of this change are disturbing as exemplified by subsequent news articles that shed light on cases where individuals facing hardships, particularly those in poverty, have sought MAID.1,3 Both the number of written requests for accessing MAID and the instances of individuals who have passed away through this method are increasing yearly.2 Between 2021 and 2022, there was a 26.5% increase in the number of written requests received and a 31.2 % increase in the number of individuals who have died by MAID.2 Since the implementation of this law in 2016, there have been 44,958 instances of medically assisted deaths reported.2
To seek MAID, the application process is fairly straightforward: you complete a form, obtain a witness signature, secure approval from two physicians, and then wait a period of 90 days before receiving a lethal injection.1 One safeguard in place is that the person undergoing MAID must be provided the opportunity to revoke their consent immediately before the procedure.2 Data released from the most recent annual report on the MAID law indicates that 75.9% of those who withdrew their consent did so because they had a change of heart.2
It’s difficult to believe that those battling with a mental illness including a substance use disorder, who may find themselves in a desolate state and believe there is no purpose in continuing to live, can soon seek assistance to end their life from their own country. This appears to signify that having a mental illness or drug addiction makes you expendable with no hope for the future, when in fact the opposite is true. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7 in 10 adults who ever had a substance use problem and 2 in 3 adults who ever had a mental health issue, consider themselves to be recovering or in recovery.4 This is the message that should be encouraged.