Senator Denise Batters says psychological suffering should not be reason for assisted suicide.

Senator Denise Batters says psychological suffering should not be reason for assisted suicide.

A Cree MP and a senator who is the widow of a suicide victim have spoken out against permitting physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons.

Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre) told the Globe and Mail he is concerned with what signals doctor-assisted suicide will send to those with mental health issues. Noting that the indigenous community has a higher suicide rate that the general public, Ouellette says he wants to talk to Indian elders before supporting the bill. “We are going to have to be very careful not to enable people who believe this is something that becomes acceptable and, in fact, in some way valorized.”

CBC Winnipeg reported that Tara Brousseau-Snider, executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, said a female client requested euthanasia based on her psychological suffering. Brousseau-Snider said, “if it was in place, they’d apply for it.” She said, “I’m very concerned about this law. It’s not a permission-giving thing. Governments should not mandate that if you’re depressed, it’s OK to kill yourself.”

The same CBC report featured John Melnick, who has depression and has attempted suicide three times. He said if physician-assisted suicide was in place during his previous attempts, “I wouldn’t be here today.” With therapy, Melnick says he is alive and doing well.

A 2013 U.S. Centers for Disease Control study found that suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have increased throughout the United States, but have increased faster in Oregon, after the state legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 1998, than elsewhere in the U.S. The study concluded that legal assisted-suicide led to a 6.3 per cent increase in regular suicides.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Conservative Senator Denise Batters came out against euthanasia for psychiatric reasons. Batters became a widow after her husband, former MP David Batters, committed suicide in 2009. David Batters had severe anxiety and depression. The CP’s Kristy Kirkup interviewed Batters, who is now an advocate for mental health, about inclusion of psychological suffering within any law regulating euthanasia or assisted suicide. Speaking of her own experience, Batters said: “I have seen … the devastating impact, not only for the individual that goes through that pain themselves … but at the same time … I’ve seen the devastating consequences that it can have on the immediate family members.”

Batters said she wants “extremely strong safeguards” and would like to rule out psychological suffering as a sole ground for accessing physician-assisted suicide. Noting the tragic ending to her own husband’s life, she said, “that doesn’t mean there aren’t many, many thousands of people in this country who have lived through a period of severe anxiety and depression and come out the other side.”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said “ambiguous definitions could enable a person who requires treatment for depression to die an assisted death.”

Queens University philosophy professor Udo Schuklenk said that he hopes euthanasia will be approved for depression. Euthanasia based on psychological suffering is permitted in the Netherlands, Belgium and Québec. The 2014 Netherlands euthanasia report stated that there were 5306 assisted deaths with 41 assisted deaths for psychiatric reasons and 81 assisted deaths for dementia in 2014. The Ontario panel that looked at assisted-suicide for the provincial government, has recommended psychological suffering as a reason to have a physician assist in a patient’s death.