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