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

The District of Saanich is accepting nominations for the 2021 Environmental Awards until June 1 at 4 p.m. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Nominations now open for Saanich’s 21st annual Environmental Awards

Awards recognize individuals and organizations making Saanich more sustainable

Rotary Club of Victoria-Harbourside president Angus Macpherson visited the Wear2Start Society boutique in Victoria to present a cheque to the society’s vice-president Alessandra Ringstad (left) and president Angela Mangiacasale. (Courtesy of Wear2Start)
Rotary club donates over $11,000 to Greater Victoria non-profit for women

Wear2Start Society provides clothing for women in need

Adrienne Rogers (LPN) and Tracy McConnell (RN) on the Victoria Hospice Unit. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Hospice)
Victoria Hospice bereavement counsellors dealing with a tsunami of grief

Last year, Victoria Hospice provided end-of-life care to more than 1,000 people

Paddles sit stacked and ready at a rowing regatta on Elk Lake in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria junior girls rowing team nabs first in national Row to Tokyo challenge

Young Victoria City Rowing Club members row more than 2,250 km

Habitat Acquisition Trust has received provincial funding to help restore Garry oak ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island. (Photo by Jeremy da Silva)
Funding boosts restoration efforts for Vancouver Island’s Garry oak ecosystems

Habitat Acquisition Trust will take on several Garry oak ecosystem restoration projects

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Most Read