Canadians Without Life Threatening Diseases Are Being Encouraged to Consider Suicide

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On Jan. 27, Dutch blogger Lauren Hoeve passed away through assisted suicide. After enduring years of chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, ME/CFS), autism, ADHD, and anxiety, she, at the young age of 28, chose euthanasia to escape a life dominated by pain.

As a Canadian, I am familiar with the Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) program, which has allowed eligible adults to request assisted death services since the federal legislation passed in June 2016. As of this year, the MAID program was also set to allow those with mental illness to choose euthanasia.

However, a recent development on Feb. 1 proposed legislation to temporarily exclude individuals with a sole underlying medical condition of mental illness until 2027.

This legislation is currently under review by Parliament, and unless it passes, the exclusion will be lifted on March 17, 2024. This means individuals struggling solely with mental health issues may become eligible for assisted death.

A confession: Initially, I welcomed the idea of assisted dying, believing it could be a humane choice for those at the late stages of irreversible illnesses to make choices on their own behalf. However, my growing concern lies in the application of MAID by the Canadian government.

I am now skeptical about the true autonomy of individuals opting for assisted death, especially in a country with socialized health care. The risk of medical practitioners recommending MAID as a cost-cutting measure to alleviate strain on the health care system is unsettling, as suggested by a 2020 analysis estimating potential annual savings of save $66 million annually in health care costs.

Individuals considering MAID are already vulnerable due to physical or mental suffering, making them susceptible to external pressures. Reflecting on my own past struggles, I recognize the unpredictability of emotions and circumstances. What seems unbearable one day may change with time and support—yet the choice to end life is a permanent one.

Like many others, I’ve lived with chronic pain for much of my life. I can recall many days where I’ve wondered what the point was of continuing to suffer. And then, a miracle drug had come along. Will it continue to work indefinitely? I don’t know, but for now, I feel like I have my life back.

And that’s the thing, there’s an unpredictable nature to health care. What one experiences one day, can change tomorrow.

There are exceptions. I recall reading about Canadian journalist John Scully, an 82-year-old man dealing with severe depression. He was hospitalized many times, had 19 treatments with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and takes up to 30 pills a day to manage his chronic pain and health issue. Shouldn’t he have a choice?

An empty hospital bed is seen.

JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

And yet, I was struck by something in the statement put out by Lauren Hoeve’s parents. “Millions of people are affect by ME/CFS, with no established treatment pathways and no cure,” they wrote on X on Feb. 2. “Why is their suffering acknowledged enough for euthanasia but not enough to fund clinical research?”

And herein lies the rub. Why is euthanasia offered as a viable solution to a potentially non-permanent problem, when other options are possible?

Mental health services in Canada (and elsewhere) are scarce. Psychologists are expensive and out of reach for many. Psychiatric services are free of charge, but the wait lists are even longer than those for psychologists and few people can get access. The wait to get help is usually over a year. Family physicians just end up prescribing medications based on a checklist and see what sticks.

Those living with chronic pain and disability have been put at the front of the line for MAID. Readily being presented with assisted dying services—instead of treatments or alternatives—can create a sense of being undervalued or marginalized. It implies that end-of-life choices should be prioritized over efforts to provide care, support, or treatments that could improve one’s quality of life or extend their lifespan.

Moreover, individuals feeling like a burden on their families may be easily swayed.

I’ve heard of least one case where a woman decided to end her life because she couldn’t get access to opioids for pain management. And while opioids are far from ideal, when it’s a choice between life and death—perhaps her doctors should have considered giving her another chance at life.

For me, the troubling part of all of this is that instead of enhancing life-staining systems—whether for people with mental health concerns, chronic pain, or disabilities—our government is opting for permanent exit plans that alleviate strain on the health care system, instead of improving it.

People deserve to have choices—and the choice to end their life should only be considered once every other possible option has been exhausted.

An estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans and more than 580,000 Canadians suffer from ME/CFS. Their lives are inherently valuable.

Katherine Brodsky is a commentator and writer who has contributed to publications such as Newsweek, Variety, WIRED, The Washington Post, Guardian, Esquire, CNN, Vulture, Playboy, Independent, Mashable, and many others—covering a diverse range of topics ranging from culture to tech—to spies. She tweets on X @mysteriouskat and writes random essays on Substack: katherinebrodsky.substack.com. Most recently, she has published her first book, No Apologies: How to Find and Free Your Voice in the Age of Outrage—Lessons for the Silenced Majority, now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at other book retailers.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.