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Published August 2023

Photo by Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

Original source Catholic News Agency | Daniel Payne

Mental health advocates and pro-life activists are expressing concerns over a possible expansion of Canada’s assisted suicide rules that would permit residents to seek fatal medical treatments even if they are not suffering from a fatal affliction.

Canada first legalized assisted suicide in June 2016 for adults suffering from irreversibly deadly illnesses. In 2021 the Canadian government said it would wait an additional two years to extend those services to mentally ill citizens to “study how MAiD [medical assistance in dying] on the basis of a mental illness can safely be provided.”

The government earlier this year extended that delay by another year. Canadians suffering from mental illnesses will be able to apply for assisted suicide by mid-March 2024. 

The looming rule change has generated protracted debate in Canada, with critics arguing that the new directives will allow people to apply for and receive assisted suicide even as they may not be on the verge of death from a terminal illness.

The likelihood of that scenario was underscored by a recent report in Reuters in which 47-year-old Canadian Lisa Pauli revealed her intent to use the state’s upcoming expansion of assisted suicide to end her own life. 

Pauli does not have a terminal illness. Rather, she has suffered from anorexia for much of her life. As she told Reuters, she hopes the soon-to-be-implemented new rules will allow her to apply for a doctor-facilitated lethal dose of pharmaceuticals so that she can kill herself. “I’m so tired. I’m done,” Pauli told the news service of her affliction.

Jeff Gunnarson, the president of Canada’s conservative Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), told CNA his group is “deeply concerned and will push against any talk or action that will see easier access to euthanasia through the so-called medical aid in dying.”

The CLC has embarked on several advocacy campaigns to head off expanded MAID eligibility, Gunnarson said, including pushing for measures such as Bill C-314, which would dictate that “a mental disorder is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition for which a person could receive medical assistance in dying.”

MAiD “is really about permitting the strong and healthy to kill the weak and sick under the veneer of autonomy,” Gunnarson argued earlier this year, with the new expansion meant to “include those who are not dying but are living with disabilities, including those living with mental illness.”

Christian Elia, the executive director of the Ottawa-based Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), told CNA the group “has been opposing this and we certainly will be stepping it up” in the wake of the upcoming mental health policy.

The group in a press release this month criticized what it called the “slippery slope” of euthanasia laws in Canada, along with the lack of protections afforded to Catholic doctors and other objectors to assisted suicide.

“The rights of physicians to conscientiously object to killing a patient was never properly enshrined” in Canadian law, the CCRL said, arguing that the Catholic Church has been “at the forefront” of offering dignified, non-suicidal palliative care to dying patients in Canada.

Elia told CNA that he is “hopeful” the mental illness rule will ultimately not come to pass.

“It could’ve been done already,” he said. “We’re hopeful. There has been blowback. The blowback has already caused this delay.” 

“There are many groups of health care professionals who are actually leading the charge and saying this is an ill-conceived idea,” he added. 

Even advocates who have not otherwise voiced opposition to MAiD expressed concern over its broadening to include mental illness. 

Lauren Clegg at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health pointed toward the group’s statements on the medical suicide law. The group has “publicly expressed concern with the federal government’s intention to extend MAiD eligibility to people whose sole medical condition is mental illness at this time,” it said.