Wednesday, May 04, 2022

MAiD and Suicide Prevention Help

My brother John and I published this a year ago, but it is still a very current and important topic.

MAiD Changes Deny Suicide Prevention Help

In case you are prevented by a paywall from accessing the article, here it is:

Bill to expand euthanasia effectively denies suicide prevention help to those who need it most

By John Van Popta and George Van Popta

As brothers living with chronic and progressively debilitating diseases – one with Parkinson’s disease and one with multiple sclerosis – we are closely following the developments around Bill C-7, which seeks to expand euthanasia to people like us. We both live with the realities of a progressive disease for which there is no cure, but which will not significantly shorten our lifespans. A common symptom of both our diseases is depression.

Under the current medical assistance in dying (MAiD) legislation, we are protected from being offered MAiD because our deaths are not reasonably foreseeable, and mental illness (including chronic depression) is not grounds to be granted access to euthanasia. But as we have watched Bill C-7 move through the House of Commons, and then the Senate, and now back to the House of Commons again, we have reason to fear for our lives.

Able-bodied, financially stable Canadians with benefit plans, housing security, and easy access to both physical and mental health care are leading the charge to open up assisted death to the vulnerable. We are retired pastors and have worked with many for whom these benefits are not a given. We are blessed to be surrounded by loving family – spouses, siblings, children, and grandchildren – who express their love for us and their willingness to care for us as our health deteriorates. But we know that many Canadians do not have this kind of support and will legitimately wonder who will be there when they need significant care.

The reasonable foreseeability of death criterion in the current MAiD law is a crucial safeguard. It precludes offering MAiD to everyone and anyone who is suffering, and it holds our medical professionals to a continued expectation of caring for, not killing, their suffering patients. If a doctor can suggest MAiD to every patient with a chronic condition (which will be possible since the restriction of waiting for MAiD to be brought up by the patient is also being pushed aside), doctors will offer death as an option alongside other, legitimate treatments – and euthanasia is the only option with a 100% guaranteed result.

The exclusion of mental illness as a sole decider for MAiD is another fundamental safeguard in a society that values suicide prevention. The Senate is suggesting this safeguard needs to be removed, and that it is wrong to prevent those with mental illness from having this “choice” to die at the hand of a doctor. That linking of personal freedom with “choice” in matters of life and death is already dangerously misused in our society. We need to recognize limits on both someone’s capacity to choose and their right to choose.

Suicide prevention efforts are primarily targeted at people facing intense mental distress. We tell them they should not choose to die – that suicide is the wrong choice, that there are reasons to live regardless of how hopeless they are currently feeling. We know that not all choices are equal and, even in a tolerant society, not all choices are good. How can we possibly balance suicide prevention with offering to help suicidal people to die?

In the course of debilitating chronic illness, many patients face dark moments and struggle to find medication that relieves their mental suffering as well as their physical suffering. Some turn to suicide. If someone offers MAiD at these vulnerable times, it might well seem like the best option.

Mental illness, whether on its own or as a symptom of another disease, does not have the same predictable trajectory as physical illness often does, and to use it as a basis for granting MAiD is to take advantage of a vulnerable person by addressing what would likely have been a temporary state of mind in a permanent and lethal way.

We are horrified by the direction Parliament is taking Canada’s euthanasia legislation. The idealization of doctor-assisted death as a peaceful, easy solution to the existential problem of life’s challenges is cruel. The proposed changes will further disadvantage the socioeconomically vulnerable, the marginalized, the disabled, and the chronically and mentally ill.

As Christian pastors we dedicated ourselves to teaching that all perons are created in the image of God, and therefore have intrinsic value regardless of their abilities, physical or mental. Bill C-7 will mandate a type of ableism that will ultimately lead to the "abled" suggesting to the "disabled" that they should choose MAID because their lives are of less value and worth.

The government’s obligation is not to kill its citizens, but to protect them. This discussion needs to end, Bill C-7 needs to die, and those of us with disabilities need to be given the opportunity to live our lives with the limitations we’ve been given.

John and George Van Popta are brothers, retired pastors, and advocates for disability rights. They live in Burlington, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario respectively.