Canadian psychiatrists’ attitude towards medical assistance in dying for people with mental illnesses appears to have undergone a sea change over the past five years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Canadian psychiatrists’ attitude towards medical assistance in dying for people with mental illnesses appears to have undergone a sea change over the past five years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Psychiatrists more open to MAID for people with mental illnesses, survey finds

Psychiatric association found 41% of members think those with mental disorders should be eligible for MAID

Canadian psychiatrists’ attitude toward medical assistance in dying for people with mental illnesses appears to have undergone a sea change over the past five years.

When Canada first legalized assisted dying in 2016, a survey of its members by the Canadian Psychiatric Association found 54 per cent supported excluding people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

Just 27 per cent were opposed, while another 19 per cent were unsure.

But in another survey of its members conducted last October, a plurality of respondents — 41 per cent — agreed that individuals suffering only from mental disorders should be considered eligible for medically assisted deaths.

Thirty-nine per cent disagreed, while 20 per cent were unsure.

The association released the latest survey results on Thursday, one day after royal assent was given to a revised bill expanding access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering people who are not near the natural end of their lives.

The Trudeau government had originally proposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering only from mental illnesses. But, under pressure from the Senate, the revised bill imposes a two-year time limit on that exclusion.

In the meantime, the government is now legally required to appoint an expert panel to study the issue and, within one year, to recommend the protocols and safeguards that should apply in such cases.

The association did not take a firm position on assisted dying for people with mental illnesses during debate on Bill C-7, even though it blasted the idea of a blanket ban as unconstitutional, discriminatory and stigmatizing.

In its latest survey, 89 per cent of respondents said psychiatric assessments should be required in cases where the sole underlying condition is a mental disorder.

Sixty-eight per cent agreed the reflection period between requesting and being assessed for an assisted death should be longer in such cases.

Eighty-seven per cent agreed that “collateral history” of patients in such cases should be obtained from others who know them, and 78 per cent said a formal oversight or review process should be established.

The association says just over 2,000 members received the survey and 474 of them (23 per cent) responded.

It also held virtual townhalls on the issue and asked for written comments.

In summarizing the verbal and written comments, the association says those who supported assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses felt “there should be fair and equal access to MAID as with any other service in health care and that having a mental disorder should neither be equated with a lack of competence nor disqualify someone from consideration.”

Those opposed argued that suicidality is “usually considered a symptom” of mental illness, that it’s difficult to ascertain whether an illness is “irremediable” and that allowing assisted dying would devalue the lives of people with mental illnesses.

The association says both sides expressed concerns about how to translate “legal terms such as ‘mental disorder,’ ‘grievous,’ ‘suffering’ and ‘irremediable’ into objective psychiatric or medical language.”

Similarly, both sides were concerned that the law specifies patients may refuse treatments unacceptable to them and questioned how a mental disorder “could objectively be deemed ‘irremediable’ when lack of access to treatment is an issue, particularly for people of low socio-economic status, those in rural or remote areas, or members of racialized communities.”

Some of those opposed went so far as to suggest that a patient must have tried all available treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy and psychosurgery before an assisted death could be contemplated.

medical aid in dying

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Binche residents Doug Connors (left) with Ross Duncan and Paul Lewis were thrilled after a mission to rescue a moose stranded on Stuart Lake was successful Friday, April 2. (Photo submitted)
Daring moose rescue on Stuart Lake garners national attention

“I’m just saving an animal,” said Ross Duncan with Paul Lewis and Doug Connors

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Marcel Gagnon will be receiving an honorary degree this year from UNBC. (Photo submitted)
Lheidli T’enneh Nation elder to receive honorary degree from UNBC

Artist and advocate, Marcel Gagnon to be recognized June 25

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

Most Read