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Canadian religious leaders speak out as country set to allow euthanasia for mental illness

Religious leaders across Canada are decrying a new federal law that will allow mentally ill Canadians to request Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) for mental illness.

“Next March, unless the government is forced to change its mind, persons suffering solely from mental illness will become eligible for euthanasia,” Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said during a homily last month, according to a report from the B.C. Catholic.

The comments come just months ahead of a deadline to expand MAID in Canada to those with mental illness, with critics calling on the government to put a halt to the plan until its ramifications can be more deeply studied.

Miller, who has called the law “morally depraved,” argued that Canada has moved too quickly to expand access to MAID in recent years.

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Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
(Reuters/Patrick Doyle/File)

“In six years, Canada has gone from totally banning euthanasia to one of the most permissive euthanasia regimes in the world,” he said. “And even more access could be coming, including allowing ‘mature minors’ to request it.”

The legalization of active euthanasia has proved to be controversial throughout the world, with only seven countries allowing the practice as of 2022. Belgium and the Netherlands, who have some of the most permissive euthanasia policies in the world, were the first to legalize MAID in 2002. They were joined by Luxembourg in 2009, Columbia in 2014, Canada in 2016, and Spain and New Zealand last year.

While Canada allowed euthanasia six years ago, the practice has been limited to those over 18 with a terminal illness. But in March of last year, the law was amended to allow for euthanasia for patients whose natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable,” paving the way for the mentally ill to receive MAID in March 2023.

The imminent availability of MAID for mentally ill patients is a troubling development to not just to Miller but with other religious leaders who have expressed serious concerns over the expansion.

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“From our viewpoint, every life has equal value … but when a life should end is not something that should be left up to human beings,” Rabbi Berel Bell, who lives and works in Montreal, told WHD News Digital. “Our creator knows how and when to end lives, and he does it every day. And if a person that is alive, whatever the reason why they need to be alive is something beyond human comprehension.”

Catholic faithful await Pope Francis at the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, Canada.

Catholic faithful await Pope Francis at the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, Canada.
(Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images)

But Bell also pointed to many of the practical considerations that are garnering little attention, arguing that situations in which MAID is offered are likely to fall on the country’s poorest demographics.

“If a person needs a psychiatrist, they go on a waiting list. It’s five years before they see a psychiatrist … unless you have money to go private, you can’t see a psychiatrist and there’s so few of them,” Bell said. “So, the price is prohibitive.”

Many Canadians rely on the country’s government-funded health care system, which in recent years has been plagued by a shortage of family doctors. Patients are often funneled to clinics and emergency rooms to receive care, resulting in less personalized treatment and longer wait times.

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Bell, who is also a leading expert on Jewish law, fears that many of those vulnerable people could be steered toward a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

“People who are in mental and emotional distress, psychological distress — who said they have to stay like that?” Bell said.

Derek Ross, the executive director of Christian Legal Fellowship, shares similar concerns, telling Christianity Today when the law was amended last year that MAID is now being offered as a “medical response” to more than just terminal illness.

“The law is now presenting death as a medical response to suffering in a wide range of cases — not just when somebody is already dying but at potentially any stage of their adult life,” Ross said. “Instead of prioritizing supports to help people to live meaningful lives, we’ve prioritized ways to make death more accessible. This is a heartbreaking message.”

Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Parliament building in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
(Eye Ubiquitous/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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Bell shared similar concerns, arguing that continued expansion of eligibility will offer death as a solution to many more people in the years to come.

“People say it’s a false argument, the slippery slope, but here you see it playing out,” Bell said. “What usually takes years is now happening in months or a year or two. Here it slipped, there was denying that assisted suicide would lead to euthanasia, but in Canada it happened all together … then you extend the definition of who is eligible, and then it’ll go to the disabled, and then we’ll go to older children, and that will go to younger children.”

 

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