A new federal law that will enable Canadians with mental illness to request Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) for their illness is being denounced by religious leaders across the country.
During a homily last month, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller reportedly said, “Next March, unless the government is forced to change its mind, persons suffering solely from mental illness will become eligible for euthanasia.”
Critics are urging the government to suspend the plan until its implications can be more thoroughly examined in light of the comments, which come just months before a deadline for expanding MAID in Canada to those with mental illness.
According to Miller, who has referred to the law as “morally depraved,” Canada has recently expanded access to MAID far too quickly.
He claimed that in just six years, Canada had transformed from having a strict ban on euthanasia to having one of the laxest policies in the entire world. And there might be even more access in the future, such as allowing “mature minors” to request it.
Only seven countries will permit active euthanasia as of 2022 due to how contentious the practice has become around the world. The first countries to legalize MAID in 2002 were Belgium and the Netherlands, which have some of the most lenient euthanasia laws in the entire world. Luxembourg joined them in 2009, Columbia in 2014, Canada in 2016, Spain, and New Zealand last year.
Euthanasia was legalized in Canada six years ago, but only for those who are over 18 and have a terminal illness. However, the law was changed in March of last year to permit euthanasia for patients whose natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable,” opening the door for MAID for the mentally ill in March 2023.
Miller and other religious leaders who have voiced serious concerns about the expansion find the impending availability of MAID for patients with mental illness to be a troubling development.
Bell, however, also drew attention to a number of less-discussed practical issues, contending that those who would most likely benefit from MAID are the nation’s poorest groups.
“If a person needs a psychiatrist, they go on a waiting list. It’s five years before they see a psychiatrist … unless you have money to go private, you can’t see a psychiatrist and there’s so few of them,” Bell said. “So, the price is prohibitive.”
A lack of family doctors has recently plagued Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system, which is used by many citizens. In order to receive care, patients are frequently directed to clinics and emergency rooms, which leads to less individualized care and longer wait times.
Jewish law authority Bell worries that many of those vulnerable people might be led toward a long-term fix for a short-term issue.
When the law was changed last year, Derek Ross, the executive director of Christian Legal Fellowship, expressed similar worries, telling Christianity Today that MAID is now being provided as a “medical response” to more than just terminal illness.
“The law is now presenting death as a medical response to suffering in a wide range of cases — not just when somebody is already dying but at potentially any stage of their adult life,” Ross said. “Instead of prioritizing supports to help people to live meaningful lives, we’ve prioritized ways to make death more accessible. This is a heartbreaking message.”
Bell expressed similar worries, contending that further eligibility expansion will in the future make death an option for a large number of people.
People often dismiss the slippery slope argument as a fallacy, but Bell insisted that it was evident in this situation. “What used to take years is now accomplished in a matter of months or years. There was a denial that legalizing assisted suicide would result in euthanasia, but in Canada it actually happened all at once. If you broaden the definition of who is eligible, it will then be available to the disabled, older children, and then younger children.”