‘Culture Of Death’: Canada On Track To Let Doctors Offer Assisted Suicide To Mentally Ill People

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Jake Smith Contributor
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Canada is set to offer assisted suicide to Canadians with mental illnesses, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The law would make Canada one of the few countries that allow individuals struggling with mental illness to seek assisted suicide through a doctor, according to the NYT. It is set to go into effect in March, and has drawn condemnation from lawmakers and mental health professionals, the latter of whom fear it will undercut their efforts to help their patients and prevent them from committing suicide. (RELATED: ‘Deeply Embarrassing’: Trudeau Responds After Canadian Parliament Hosts Nazi Veteran)

“I’m trying to keep my patients alive,” Dr. John Maher, an Ontario-based psychiatrist, told the NYT. “What does it mean for the role of the physician, as healer, as bringer of hope, to be offering death? And what does it mean in practice?”

Canada made assisted suicide legal in 2016 and currently offers the service to citizens who suffer from terminal illnesses or physical and chronic disorders, according to the NYT. Approximately 13,200 Canadians died by assisted suicide in 2022, a 31% increase from the year prior; roughly 45,000 people in total have died from assisted suicide since the law was enacted in 2016, according to CBC.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has defended the planned expansion of assisted suicide to mentally ill individuals, citing a 2019 Quebec court ruling that mandates its approval, according to the NYT. Canada’s Conservative Party has decried the expansion, warning it will fuel a “culture of death,” and many Canadians feel the focus should be instead on expanding the country’s underfunded psychiatric care services.

Defenders of the new law argue that it would be inhumane not to offer assisted suicide to individuals who struggle with severe mental health issues, according to the NYT. Some psychiatrists and doctors argue that an individual will only be eligible for assisted suicide after they have consulted with multiple doctors, who must deem their mental health complications irreparable.

But others in the psychiatry field say that these consultations cannot truly determine whether or not these individuals’ mental state is beyond healing, according to the NYT.

“The research that we have shows psychiatrists are no better at identifying who’s not going to get better,” Maher told the NYT. “The challenge for us is it’s not a short-term process. When people have been sick for years, healing takes years.”

The law is scheduled to go into effect in March 2024, but its ratification could be stonewalled by Canada’s parliament, which has delayed it over the last three years following the Quebec court’s ruling, according to the NYT.

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