Should an individual get to choose to end their life, with a physician’s assistance, when suffering becomes too great?
Until a year ago, as The Supreme Court of Canada noted “It is a crime in Canada to assist another person in ending her own life.” The Court goes on to write that ” As a result, people who are grievously and irremediably ill cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering. A person … has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”
The Court mandated that physician assisted suicide be legalized across Canada within a year. Now provincial medical governing bodies are trying to formulate guidelines around how this should be done.
What about individuals with mental illness? The Court didn’t explicitly exclude mental illness.
I know a woman who developed schizophrenia in early adulthood. She and her family went through years of torment. She was hospitalized for years. She hasn’t been hospitalized for more than 20 years, lives independently, has friends and looks after her dog. She is sweet and warm and funny. Yet when I ask her about her lived experience of recovery she commented that she would choose death over having to go through it again.
Am I to question her assessment of her life?
And yet… I’ve met so many individuals who have suffered so much and still have built lives of meaning and worth. Can mental illness be ‘grievous’? Yes, without question. Is is ‘irremediable’? I don’t think it is.
Some countries have allowed physician assisted suicide for individuals with mental illness. (See The Death Treatment in the June 2015 New Yorker article on this issue and how’s it been dealt with in Belgium or, even more timely – just out today (and shorter) Margret Wente Right to Die and Mentally Ill on how we need to deal with it.
What do you think?