Canada approved assisted suicide in 2016 for patients with terminal illnesses, and it will be expanded to people with incurable diseases in 2021. According to an expert panel report to Canada’s parliament, the new mental health provision will make Canada one of the most expansive countries in the world when it comes to medical help in dying (MAID).
Proponents of assisted suicide believe that it is a matter of personal autonomy. Six disability rights and religious groups, however, told Reuters that the pace of anticipated improvements to Canada’s assisted death framework raises the danger of people choosing MAID because they are unable to access social supports, which could compound their suffering. Canada’s Justice Minister, David Lametti, denied complaints that the country was moving too quickly or that the system was vulnerable to abuse. Some disability groups have called for the current framework to be repealed, claiming that it puts persons with disabilities at risk.
In 2021, the most recent year available, 10,064 persons died as a result of medically assisted suicide, accounting for approximately 3.3% of all fatalities in Canada that year. According to official data, this compares to 4.5% in the Netherlands and 2.4% in Belgium, where assisted suicide has been permitted since 2002. The vast majority of assisted deaths in Canada followed the law, but only a tiny percentage were investigated by provincial authorities. In Canada, health care is the responsibility of provinces and territories.
Since 2016, almost 30,000 people have died with medical aid in Canada, with over 10,000 of them dying in 2021 when the law was broadened to include those whose deaths were not “reasonably foreseeable.” According to Health Canada data, even after the legislation change, around 98% of the assisted deaths in 2021 will be people who are towards the end of their lives.
The operation is only offered to persons covered by a Canadian healthcare program and involves a formal application as well as assessments from two independent medical practitioners, one of whom must be a specialist in the applicant’s illness if they are not nearing natural death. The process often includes an injection given at home.
The federal government is contemplating parliamentary committee suggestions to allow advance requests and “mature minors” – persons under the age of 18 who are deemed capable of making this decision – to receive assisted suicide. Quebec has passed legislation allowing persons to seek assisted suicide in advance, with the request taking effect when they reach a predefined degree of incapacity due to Alzheimer’s or comparable illnesses. However, according to Georges L’Esperance, head of the Quebec Association for the Right to Die with Dignity, the provision could take up to two years to take effect. Death with Dignity This year, Canada has gathered nearly 10,000 letters to government officials pushing to legitimize advance requests across the country. The federal government, which is in charge of enforcing the criminal code, has not stated whether it will fight Quebec’s law in court. He stated that when it comes to minors and advance requests, “we need more time” to gauge public opinion and address regulatory issues.
In April 2021, patient Pauli discussed assisted suicide with psychiatrist Justine Dembo for the first time. She was a member of an expert panel on assisted suicide and mental illness that delivered a report to Canada’s legislature last year. She has tried numerous treatments and has been hospitalized twice, but she still obsesses over what she has eaten and what she will consume. Dembo informed Pauli that if Canadian legislation changes, she may be eligible for assisted suicide. She considers it “a last resort” and attempts to assess whether they have gotten all possible medical and social help.
According to some medical experts, mental illness alone should not be a requirement for assisted suicide. It can be challenging to evaluate whether a mental condition is actually irreversible, as required by law, and to distinguish between pathological suicidality and a reasoned desire to die. Six campaigners claim that Canada’s expansion of assisted suicide risks endangering persons with intellectual and physical disabilities, low incomes, or other vulnerabilities. Michelle Hewitt, co-chair of the advocacy group Disability Without Poverty, stated that her greatest fear is that we get to the point where people die but haven’t invested time, money, or people in putting in place the things that would mean people don’t want to consider assisted suicide.
While the recorded number of problematic assisted deaths in Canada is minimal, some opponents of assisted suicide in other countries are using the country’s experience as a cautionary tale. According to Charles Falconer, a British Labour peer who favors assisted suicide for persons with terminal illnesses in the United Kingdom, where it is not allowed, Canada is being used primarily as an argument against us, not an argument for us.