Petition calls for exclusion of mental illness from conditions for doctor-assisted dying
Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016 10:08PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 8, 2016 8:16AM EST
A mental health advocate has joined a growing chorus that’s asking Ottawa to reject a proposal that would allow Canadians with mental health issues to request a doctor-assisted death.
Mark Henick has launched a petition asking the federal government to exclude mental illness like depression and anxiety.
The petition has amassed more than 1,700 signatures since it launched late last week.
It follows the release of recommendations from a parliamentary committee that included a recommendation to make doctor-assisted dying available to adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions, including mental illness.
Henick says he suffered from severe depression and had been suicidal.
However, he’s now happy to be alive.
“When I was in that place, I wouldn’t have believed in me now,” Henick told CTV News. “But now, in retrospect, I look back at everything that my life has become and I am so fortunate that I didn’t kill myself when I was originally that I absolutely needed to.”
Henick said he believes the parliamentary committee “deeply misunderstands” how and why suicide occurs among those with mental health illnesses.
“They misunderstand that when someone is suicidal, while our capacity and competency to make decisions usually remains, the options we have to choose from become limited and distorted by the very symptoms we're fighting to overcome,” Henick writes in the petition.
Henick said recovery from severe mental illnesses is possible.
“There is always something that we can do to help,” he said. “In a mental health system that is so often failing people, we can't the just cut and run. We need to be able to fix the system first.”
On Tuesday, a group of ethicists, medical professionals, lawyers and advocates released a list of requirements and safeguards that they want built into the new assisted-dying legislation, which includes the need to protect “vulnerable” people.
According to the Vulnerable Persons Standard, a person’s vulnerability can be affected by a number of factors, including disability, grief, loneliness, stigma and shame.
Former MP David Batters died of suicide in 2009 after suffering with anxiety and depression.
His widow, Saskatchewan Sen. Denise Batters, said she’s against allowing those with mental illness to request doctor-assisted dying.
"They need our support, our resources, and our promise that we will never give up on them, even if they have given up on themselves,” she said.
Belgian psychiatrist Dr. Joris Vandenberghe said in the last five years he’s noticed an increase in the number of doctor-assisted deaths on the ground of mental illness.
“But we see that sometimes it happens very quickly. The necessary time is not taken to really evaluate a patient and to explore all alternative options,” he said. “The concern is things happen to quickly, the death wish is taken for granted without exploring alternatives.”
Ottawa is in the process of drafting new assisted-dying legislation and it’s not yet clear if Canadians suffering with mental illness will be included in the new laws.
In January, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the federal government a four-month extension to come up with assisted-dying laws.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip