Paul Tuns:

On Feb. 27, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition was joined by pro-life groups and legal and medical experts for a protest against the expansion of euthanasia to people suffering solely from mental illness.

Although the Trudeau government tabled Bill C-62, pausing the expansion of so-called Medical Assistance in Dying to people whose sole condition is a mental illness for three years until after then next election, EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg and the other experts addressing the crowd said the expansion should be scrapped permanently.

Jeff Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition, said in a statement, “While we accept this delay, the fact is that euthanasia solely on the grounds of mental illness should never have been legally permitted in the first place.” Gunnarson said, “The implementation of euthanasia for the mentally ill must not simply be delayed for three years; it must be entirely stopped.”

Echoing the various speakers at the rally, Gunnarson said, “Those suffering from mental illness need compassionate care, not killing.”

During the rally, Dr. Paul Saba urged Canadians to oppose MAiD, arguing “we should be providing better care and not be killing the disabled.”

Human rights lawyer Garifalia Milousis described her own mental illness struggles and said she was “here today because thankfully in my moment of suffering no one came to me and said ‘maybe assisted suicide is the solution.’” She said if MAiD was available, “someone like myself in a moment of deep despair and depression and psychological suffering” would be offered assisted-suicide rather than medical care. “Instead of us coming alongside those individuals and saying that there is hope, there is meaning, and there is purpose to their lives,” she said “We’re instead going to say ‘maybe depression is right; maybe there isn’t any hope for you anymore.’”

Milousis said she hopes the government “will hear the voices of Canadian like myself and many others here today who say that we want to live in a world that says even a life with suffering is one worth living.”

In October 2023, Parliament voted down a private member’s bill by the retiring Ed Fast that would permanently scrap plans to expand euthanasia to those with mental illness. Mental health experts, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, have warned that there was no way to assess whether a request to die was a supposedly rational request or the mental illness speaking.

At the EPC press conference on Feb. 27, Dr. Saba said, “It is not medical assistance in dying that people need, but rather medical assistance in living.”

He said that about one in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, with about half seeking professional help. He said failure to treat mental illness is higher among marginalized communities including indigenous people, people living in poverty, and people with pre-existing mental disorders. He said that in Quebec, the average waiting time between a consultation with a psychiatrist and treatment is about five months – while the “law requires a three-month waiting period before euthanasia is administered.” He said, “Our health and social care system is failing for people with mental health problems.”

Saba maintained, “Nobody wants to die. Instead, people want to escape their emotional distress.” Physicians “must help them in their distress.”

Saba also said that there is no consensus when mental illness is “irremediable,” which is a criterion to qualify for Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada for all patients requesting euthanasia.

During the press conference, Schadenberg called on the government to block all expansion of euthanasia. “The position of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is obviously that we welcome the delay,” said Schadenberg, “but we actually oppose the concept of euthanasia for mental illness and the concept of even expanding to this.”