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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Clients and Service Users attend panel and discussion on MAiD

On Monday June 5th, the client Empowerment Council and CAMH held a well-attended event to hear client viewpoints about whether Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) should ever be made available to people suffering from standalone mental illness.

The event followed a Catalytic Conversation held in February that explored the viewpoints of professionals from the legal, medical and bio-ethical perspective on the same issue.

To set the context for the evening’s discussion, CAMH’s Legal Department provided an overview of the current MAiD law in Canada.  Last year, the federal government committed to further study complex issues that were not addressed in Bill C-14 – the legislation that now allows eligible adults suffering irremediably from terminal illnesses to request MAiD under specific circumstances. An independent review by the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) will now consider a number of aspects of the present law, including the applicability of MAiD to standalone mental illness. The review will be tabled in Parliament and available to the public by December 2018.

Lucy Costa
Lucy Costa, Empowerment Council

The evening’s panel was composed of people with lived experience with a range of opinions on MAiD:

  • Mark Henick, National Director of Strategic Initiatives for the CMHA and senior member of the board of directors for the Mental Health Commission of Canada
  • Graeme Bayliss, journalist and Digital Media Producer at TVO and former managing editor at The Walrus magazine
  • Lisa Walter, visual artist and educator who has spoken in public many times about mental illness and the arts, and has presented at major conferences regarding service users co-teaching with service providers.

Panelists from left to right: Lisa Walter, Graeme Bayliss, Mark Henick

Each of the three invited panelists drew on their own personal experiences as they eloquently outlined their respective viewpoints on the question of MAiD where mental illness is the sole underlying condition.

Mark Henick, who believes that the law in its current form is well-measured, spoke about his disappointment with the quality of and access to mental health care in Canada, especially the lack of access to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Mark advocated for a greater focus on providing better supports to people with mental illness, and remarked that “we’re failing those people who would come to the point where they no longer want to live – that they would want to access Medical Assistance in Dying.”

Graeme Bayliss is in favour of Medical Assistance in Dying for standalone mental illness when all other therapeutic options have been exhausted. During the worst depression he has experienced since being diagnosed as a teenager, Graeme wrote an article in The Walrus explaining his personal belief that having the option to die would have “made living a little bit easier.” In addition to sharing responses to his Walrus article, Graeme also spoke about the effect of suicide on families and loved ones.

Lisa Walter stood in favour of the evening’s question. Her personal belief is that “people who experience severe, unremitting psychological suffering and for whom there is no reasonable reason to believe this will ever change should have access to medical assistance in ending their lives.” Her opinion has been shaped by her own experience, but also by the experience of the death of eight people in her life by suicide, including her brother. Lisa addressed the ignorance about mental illness that she and others continually experience throughout the health care system.

Following the panel discussion, audience members contributed their own opinions in a robust and emotional conversation on themes including dignity, consent, suffering, spirituality, empathy and equity.

There was general consensus among audience members on a number of topics, including:

  • the experience of mental health care being substandard compared to physical health care
  • the importance of the social determinants of mental health, such as companionship
  • the importance of further conversations about the collection and use of data on MAiD in Canada, and in countries with laws that permit assistance with death
  • the critical  importance of  allowing  mental health service users to lead conversations  about the future of MAiD
  • the need for further discussion to ensure that all service user perspectives are heard, especially the voices of racialized, immigrant and Indigenous communities, as the debate evolves.

You can watch a video recording of the event and the panelists’ discussion here.

CAMH has a MAiD Committee that is giving consideration to this complex and sensitive issue with the goal of making a submission to the CCA. The committee includes representation from CAMH clinical, legal, policy, bioethics and the Empowerment Council.

Page posted on June 14, 2017.

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