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

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations in Gold River area

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Volunteers sort through bottles and cans during Saturday's fundraiser for hospice. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Comox Valley hospice holds drive-through bottle drive

Bike team is fundraising for the annual Cycle of Life tour on Vancouver Island

The Village of Cumberland is applying for a UBCM grant to help streamline development application processes. Black Press file photo
Cumberland looks to streamline development

“This looks like the best thing we’ve ever applied for.”

Security camera image of 7-Eleven robbery suspect. Photo supplied.
Late-night Courtenay robbery results in 500-plus days in jail

Heatley’s sentence also includes probation, DNA order, firearms ban

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

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

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read