National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Charles lewis

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.


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