Editorial on doctor-assisted suicide for mental illness patients

I came across an article titled “Possibility that incurable depression meets criteria for doctor-assisted suicide raises ethical concerns.”

Last weekend, while reading the National Post, I came across an article entitled “Possibility that incurable depression meets criteria for doctor-assisted suicide raises ethical concerns.”

Discussion on doctor-assisted death has spread across the nation after the Supreme Court of Canada moved forward with its legalization. The ethical concern in this case is the fact that the Supreme Court’s recent decision applies to not only patients with incurable physical illnesses, but also patients with mental illnesses.

I can understand why many would consider this recent ruling extremely harsh and ethically wrong. As the National Post article read, “The notion that mental illness might make someone eligible for state-sanctioned assisted death…is causing unease…” I think that individuals should delve further into the facts before making an uninformed decision.

Patients must meet strict criteria before this option is even considered. According to leading Canadian bioethicist Udo Schuklenk, doctors must confirm the patients competence before doctor-assisted death can even be viewed as an option. Dr. Schuklenk also noted that the doctor must first establish that the individuals condition is one that cannot be improved, a qualification that can’t be determined until the patient has undergone several years of clinical care involving psychotherapy, anti-depressant drugs and other ‘cures’ for depression.

The thought of depression meeting the criteria for legalized doctor-assisted death is alarming to many individuals, especially considering that according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Medical professionals, including Dr. Schuklenk, consider untreatable depression to be equal, if not more painful, than the suffering endured by those living with a painful physical illness. Although I have no personal experience in this, I believe this could certainly be the case.

The article also states, “In its historic and unanimous decision, the Supreme Court justices ruled competent, consenting adults suffering a ‘grievous and irremediable’ medical condition causing intolerable physical or psychological suffering have a Constitutional right to a doctor’s aid in dying.” The fact of the matter is that this law was designed to allow individuals, whether they are suffering from a physical or mental illness, to die with dignity, and although I understand and recognize the ethical dilemma, I believe individuals need to first understand the law before taking a stance against it.