IS IT RIGHT CANADA MAY ONE DAY HELP MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE KILL THEMSELVES?
Two celebrities take their lives, two people who appeared to have everything to live for. Though clearly, Anthony Bourdain, a globetrotting chef for CNN, and Kate Spade, the handbag maker who made millions of people ooh and ah, did not see it that way.
The reaction in the media was predictable: sadness, regret and questions about why. On Sunday, The New York Times ran an information piece for readers who worry that someone close to them might be suicidal. It was called: “What to do When a Loved One is Severely Depressed.”
Not one of the many suggestions mentioned helping the person commit suicide or putting them out of their misery in a humane way.
The Times article was intended to prevent a needless death. That is as it should be. It would be sick to give someone who is depressed and wants to end his or her life the encouragement to jump.
Imagine if the article said: “When confronted with someone suffering from mental illness, you might suggest they sit in their car, in the garage, and rev the engine till the gas puts them out of their misery.”
But for how much longer will the idea of abetting a suicidal person like Bourdain or Spade be seen as sick and immoral — especially in Canada?
In December 2016, Health Canada struck a committee of experts to look at extending our current laws on euthanasia to teens and the mentally ill. Currently, MAID — Medical Aid in Dying — is limited to those over the age of 18 whose physical health ailments mean that their natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” The committee is supposed to report back at the end of this year.
It is possible the experts will say no to both proposals. Or yes to both or one or the other. What should be concerning, however, is that this is even being considered.
I am going to put aside the proposal on teens for now. That might be the one area where even those who are pro-euthanasia will balk. There are lots of things we do not let youngsters do — from joining the military to voting to buying cigarettes.
But I am not so sure about the outcome for the mentally ill.
Somewhere in 2016 a group of people in the government debated this and there were enough people in favour of extending euthanasia that they thought it was worth studying. That should be the first alarm.
I think even 10 years ago these types of suggestions would have seemed insane. Even in 2016, the year euthanasia in this country became legal, anyone who worried about the law expanding would have been accused of fear mongering. There is no danger of a slippery slope, we were told.
I would have hoped that even today this type of suggestion would have seemed repugnant. But then last year, in The Globe and Mail, there was a column that made me realize nothing is off limits.
In 2017, a 27-year-old man named Adam Maier-Clayton took his own life. He suffered from mental illness. The young man had written about wanting a legal way to end his suffering and his life in a Globe essay months before his death.
André Picard, The Globe and Mail’s health reporter, wrote a column that urged lawmakers to heed to Maier-Clayton’s wish in honour of his tragic death.
“Other Canadians who want to avail themselves of assisted death shouldn’t have to wait either for legislation to catch up with the court ruling and public sentiment. Most people accept that if someone’s dying anyhow, it’s OK to hasten their death, especially if they’re old,” Picard wrote. “But cases such as Mr. Maier-Clayton’s make us distinctly uncomfortable. He was young, healthy-looking and not suffering from any obvious physical illness.
“We should not discriminate or deny people rights because it makes us queasy or because of our prejudices. This case reminds us just how severe mental illness can be.”
The Netherlands and Belgium already dispatch the mentally ill, so Picard’s suggestion is not without precedent.
In the first 12 months of legal euthanasia, from June 2016 to June 2017, 2,000 Canadian died via lethal injection. To me this is tragedy enough. But I would have thought that there were Canadians who, unlike me, are in favour of euthanasia, but who would balk at killing the mentally ill.
Depression and other mental illnesses should not be a death sentence. As time has gone on, with improvements in medicine, they have become easier to live with.
Many people so afflicted can grow out of their illnesses. What it takes is for those of us who are around these people to offer whatever aid we can. We need to ensure they are seeing a doctor. We need to listen carefully to what they have to say, to look for hints that they might go the way of Spade and Bourdain.
How crazy would it be if we were to encourage them to end their lives?
How crazy would it be if our government decided that death is a medical option for those who suffer mentally?
How crazy indeed.
Notes, photographs and flowers are left in memory of Anthony Bourdain at the closed New York location of Brasserie Les Halles, where Bourdain used to work as the executive chef.