With the impending passing of Bill C-14, my blog from 2015 "People With Mental Illness Deserve To Die With Dignity Too" has been regaining a lot of traction. A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about the bill's passage.
I can only respond with one thing: I regret voting Liberal in last year's federal election.
My views about dying with dignity for people living with mental illness are unchanged, but now more than ever I am adamant that people living with mental illness deserve to die with dignity, too.
I'll be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of Stephen Harper and the Conservative government, but I'll admit they did one thing right: They looked out for people living with mental illness, just like myself. In 2006 shortly after being brought to power they formed the Mental Health Commission of Canada and last summer they renewed the commission's mandate for an additional 10 years.
I only wish Trudeau was just as progressive when it comes to people living with mental illness.
I didn't hear of the Conservatives doing much for people with mental illness and that's quite possibly due to the fact that they weren't doing much. When I voted for Justin Trudeau, I voted for change. I voted for somebody who I thought was progressive and was up to date with the times, somebody who I thought understood Canadians. And to some degree Justin Trudeau is progressive -- planning to legalize marijuana was a big, bold step.
I only wish Trudeau was just as progressive when it comes to people living with mental illness. There's a big difference between Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau: Not doing anything at all and taking away somebody's rights, or not affording people equal rights. Mr. Trudeau, of course, falls into the latter.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal prohibition on doctors assisting patients in taking their own lives and the government had to draft new legislation. Paragraph 127 of the court's ruling shed some light as to what should be included in the new legislation:
The appropriate remedy is therefore a declaration that s. 241(b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code are void insofar as they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life; and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition. "Irremediable," it should be added, does not require the patient to undertake treatments that are not acceptable to the individual.
It was widely believed that the keywords "irremediable," "illness," "disease," "disability" and "intolerable" could all apply to somebody living with mental illness and therefore allow us to take advantage of the legislation. I assumed the Harper Government would encompass people living with mental illness in the new legislation, but they never had an opportunity to introduce it.
With all of Trudeau's modern and progressive ways of dealing with issues, I thought including people with mental illness in Bill C-14 was a certainty. I thought wrong. Instead, the legislation will only apply to people whose death is "reasonably foreseeable" and is "suffering intolerably."
I believe you could argue somebody who is living with mental illness is suffering intolerably depending on how long they've been living with their illness for and if treatments have proven to be unsuccessful. However, a doctor will not tell a patient living with mental illness they only have days or weeks to live.
Shouldn't those people who are incurable, deemed competent and living with an intolerable illness deserve to die with dignity?
But let's not sugarcoat it: Mental illness kills people. Mental illness drives people to kill themselves. Shouldn't those people who are incurable, deemed competent and living with an intolerable illness deserve to die with dignity? Justin Trudeau doesn't think so!
For decades people with mental illness have argued to have their illness recognized just like a physical illness. Just because you can't see the illness doesn't mean it's not there, and Canadians are beginning to understand that.
Just as Canadians begin to accept that mental illness is no different than a physical illness, the Trudeau government decides that mental illness should be treated differently than a physical illness. Though Mr. Trudeau's mother has dealt with her own mental illness, I don't know if HE understands what intolerable mental suffering feels like. Mr. Trudeau should make Bill C-14 available to anybody who is deemed competent.
Not all hope is lost though. On May 18, the Court of Appeal of Alberta ruled a woman living with a psychiatric condition known as conversion disorder can have a doctor-assisted suicide. I hope this ruling serves as a wake-up call to Mr. Trudeau and he'll have a change of heart and decide to foster a more inclusive society for Canadians, especially those living with mental illness!
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Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year. The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241 that: "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada. The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability. Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another. The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation. Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."(CP)