Canada U-turns on euthanizing the mentally ill: Country halts plans to broaden assisted dying to people with depression ‘because there aren’t enough doctors to assess them’

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Canada delayed a plan to extend medically assisted dying to mentally ill people
  • The broadening was originally scheduled to go into effect in March 
  • READ MORE: Woman with long Covid, 55, applies to be EUTHANIZED in Canada

Canada has delayed a plan to offer assisted suicide to people suffering solely from mental illness, health officials announced. 

The controversial policy, which critics feared would lead to people killing themselves out of desperation, currently allows anyone in Canada with an incurable medical condition to apply to die, even if the disease is not terminal. 

The country’s law around medically assisted dying is one of the most liberal in the world. In 2022 alone, about 13,000 Canadians were euthanized as part of the program.  

However, health officials said Monday that there are not enough doctors, especially psychiatrists, in the country to evaluate mentally ill people who wish to die. 

The delay comes as Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen comes under fire for signing a legal note helping a retired nurse die by assisted suicide before writing about the experience.  

Canada’s law around medically assisted dying is one of the most liberal in the world. In 2022 alone, about 13,000 Canadians were euthanized as part of the program

Canada's Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program permits people to end their lives if they are experiencing an incurable illness. It is set to expand to people with mental illnesses, though that has been delayed

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program permits people to end their lives if they are experiencing an incurable illness. It is set to expand to people with mental illnesses, though that has been delayed

Mark Holland, Canada’s Minister of Health, said: ‘The system needs to be ready, and we need to get it right.’

‘It’s clear from the conversations we’ve had that the system is not ready, and we need more time.’ 

‘Although the curriculum is present, although the guidelines are set, there has not been enough time for people to be trained on them, and provinces and territories are saying their systems are not ready and need more time.’

The officials did not offer any timeline for the latest extension. Prior to this delay, the expansion was scheduled to come into effect on March 17. 

Dying with Dignity Canada, a group that advocates for the right of medically assisted death, said that it was ‘disheartened’ by the postponement.

Medically assisted dying (MAiD) was first introduced in 2015 after Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that requiring people to cope with intolerable suffering violated their rights to liberty and security. 

Passed in June 2016, only people with terminal illnesses whose natural death was reasonably foreseeable — known as Track One patients — were eligible to apply for MAiD.

Lynda Bluestein, 76, traveled from Connecticut to Vermont to end her life earlier this month by taking prescribed lethal medication

Lynda Bluestein, 76, traveled from Connecticut to Vermont to end her life earlier this month by taking prescribed lethal medication

Boston Globe journalist Kevin Cullen signed a form that attested that Ms Bluestein was in a clear state of mind

Boston Globe journalist Kevin Cullen signed a form that attested that Ms Bluestein was in a clear state of mind

But in March 2021 the legislation was updated to create Track Two patients. These are defined as people who suffer ‘intolerable’ and ‘irreversible’ disease or disability who may not be near natural death.

In 2022, data showed 13,241 people chose MAiD to die, a 31 percent increase from 2021. This accounted for one in 20 total Canadian deaths.

The controversial policy, which some worry will see people kill themselves out of desperation, was further updated in December 2022 so people looking to MAiD to end their lives solely due to mental illness would, before the delay, be eligible in March 2024.

As of now, to qualify for MAiD, people must meet all criteria: be eligible for health services funded by the government; be at least 18 years old and deemed mentally competent; have an irremediable medical condition — one that is irreversible, in advanced stages and causes unbearable physical or mental suffering — make a voluntary request to die; and give informed consent to receive medical assistance to end your life.

There are two methods MAiD uses to end someone’s life. 

In the first, a doctor or nurse practitioner administers a drug that causes death. 

In the second, a doctor or nurse practitioner prescribes a drug to a patient that they take themselves.

Medications used in MAiD deaths are often drugs healthcare providers already use for other purposes, but in much lower doses, like pain control, anesthesia and nausea.

Tracey Thompson, 55, pictured above before she contracted Covid-19

Tracey Thompson, 55, pictured above after she contracted Covid-19

Tracey Thompson, 55, pictured above before she contracted Covid-19 (left) and after her illness (right)

Ms Thompson in the hospital in March 2022. She contracted Covid-19 in March 2020 and developed a sore throat and lost her sense of taste and smell

Ms Thompson in the hospital in March 2022. She contracted Covid-19 in March 2020 and developed a sore throat and lost her sense of taste and smell

Kevin Cullen, a columnist with the Boston Globe, came under fire this week after it emerged that he signed a legal note that helped a retired nurse die by assisted suicide before writing about the experience.

Lynda Bluestein, 76, traveled from Connecticut to Vermont to end her lif eearlier this month after battling cancer, which Mr Cullen chronicled for the Globe. 

It has since emerged that Mr Cullen not only witnessed the event, but also signed a form that attested Ms Bluestein was in a clear state of mind when deciding to die. 

There is no suggestion Cullen has broken the law but critics are now questioning the ethics of his decision. 

Vermont is the first state in the nation to change its laws in order to allow non residents to use the law to die there. 

There are 10 states which allow medically assisted suicide. 

Tracey Thompson, a 55-year-old former chef in Toronto, applied to be euthanized last year after a battle with long Covid has left her bedridden and jobless. 

She told DailyMail.com last month that she had been robbed of the simple pleasures in life: she’s too weak to cook, too nauseous to eat and can’t listen to music, read or watch movies because her brain fog is so severe she ‘can’t process the info.’

In the nearly four years she’s been suffering with her illness, she hasn’t been able to work and has run out of her savings. She also has no family to speak of and has lost all her friends. 

‘My quality of life with this illness is almost nonexistent, it’s not a good life,’ she said. ‘I don’t do anything. It is painfully boring. It’s profoundly isolating.’

Most days look the same for Ms Thompson: She wakes up, takes several medications, drinks a meal replacement shake and goes to the bathroom.

Mustering enough energy to get to the bathroom is the ‘biggest part of my day.’

Then she lies back in bed and waits until it’s time to eat. Once a professional chef who loved cooking and eating, Ms Thompson has become ‘allergic to everything’ and the foods she is able to eat are limited. She will cook unseasoned chicken and vegetables most days.

She then takes more medications, including a pill to go to sleep. ‘Then I wake up and I do the whole thing again,’ she said. 

‘My quality of life with this illness is almost nonexistent. There is a real absence of life. It’s not a good life.’ 

Jason French of Canada has backed the law’s broadening to people wiht mental illness. Mr French has attempted suicide twice due to severe depression.

‘My goal from the start was to get better. Unfortunately, I’m resistant to all these treatments and the bottom line is, I can’t keep suffering,’ he told The New York Times.

‘I can’t keep living my life like this.’

‘I don’t want to have to die terrified and alone, and have someone find me somewhere. I want to do it with a doctor.’

‘I want to die within a few minutes, peacefully.’

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