Psychiatrists welcome cautious approach to mental illness and medical assistance in dying

Psychiatrists welcome cautious approach to mental illness and medical assistance in dying

—Ottawa, ON, April 14, 2016—

The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) is pleased that today the federal government committed to further study the unique implications of requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID) where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.

“A more considered and less rushed approach to the complex issue of MAID and mental illness is welcome,” said Dr. K. Sonu Gaind, president of the CPA. “The lack of established standards and guidelines, compounded by barriers to mental illness services and treatments, leaves people with mental illness vulnerable and must be addressed before making PAD available to them.”

Legislation on MAID, tabled today, reinstates the sections of the Criminal Code struck down by Carter v. Canada. Bill C-14 re-enacts the general prohibitions against MAID but creates exemptions from prosecution that meet specific eligibility criteria. The criteria require that the patient have a grievous and irremediable medical condition where a natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, conditions unlikely to be met by someone seeking MAID based solely on mental illness.

“The federal government’s commitment to study MAID and mental illness will allow thoughtful reflection on how key MAID concepts like irremediability should be defined and assessed in the context of mental illness,” notes Dr. Gaind. For instance cognitive distortions which are common in mental illness, may affect whether people perceive their condition as remediable. Ensuring that the system provides adequate access to the full range of services required to address the biological, psychological and social underpinnings of mental illness treatment is also of primary importance.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada’s 4,700 psychiatrists and more than 900 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.