Euthanasia can never be a solution for mental illness



January 25, 2023

Just before the new year, the Liberal government announced plans to delay the expansion of euthanasia to those with mental illness. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, when Canada focuses on the need to support those struggling with the effects of mental illness, the Care Not Kill talking points are especially relevant. Euthanasia should never be promoted as a solution for mental illness, and this planned delay is a necessary start as we work to build real support for Canadians with mental illness. The government needs to pass a bill that will remove the Criminal Code provision that allows this expansion.

While euthanasia should never be the answer to suffering, that is particularly clear in cases of mental illness. Mental illness is fundamentally different from physical illness in that its trajectory is unpredictable. “Reasonably foreseeable death,” as was first a requirement for accessing euthanasia, does not exist in the world of mental illness. Many people struggle off and on with mental illness in varying intensity throughout their lives, but it is not going to cause any kind of predictable death.

Mental illness has many similarities to physical illness – both impact your ability to work, your energy levels, and your relationships. But while physical illness generally has predictable treatments and outcomes, mental illness can vary widely from person to person. Many people with the same diagnosis may experience their symptoms very differently, making diagnosis difficult and treatment even more challenging. Offering euthanasia will tell people that they are being given up on, seen as hopeless cases.

We have made great strides in reducing stigma around mental illness, and we will be taking steps backward if we now offer euthanasia as a solution to mental illness. We have come to recognize the prevalence of mental illness in various forms and the very real suffering that comes with it. Many of us know and love someone who struggles with mental illness. Crisis lines and support groups exist for a variety of ages, languages, and circumstances. Suicide prevention, not suicide assistance, needs to remain a priority as we seek to make all people feel valued for who they are, regardless of anything else.

Currently, March 17 is the deadline when mental illness will become a qualifying factor for euthanasia. To stop this from happening, Parliament needs to introduce a new bill and pass it before the deadline arrives. If they do the right thing, that bill will remove the current Criminal Code provision for the expansion of euthanasia, not just delay it. Euthanasia should never be seen as a solution for mental illness, and our law needs to maintain protection for those struggling with mental illness.

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