CANADA: Suicidal Woman Recommended Medical Assistance In Dying By Vancouver General Hospital

Natasha Biase

A Canadian woman was reportedly offered information on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) by a clinician at Vancouver General Hospital after seeking medical assistance for suicidal ideations.

Kathryn Mentler, a first-year counselling student, told The Globe and Mail that she went to the hospital in June to get professional help to treat her chronic depression and ongoing thoughts of suicide.

Extremely vulnerable, Mentler, who is 37, was shocked when the clinician asked if she had considered MAID, advising her that wait times to see a psychiatrist are extremely long due to Canada’s “broken” medical system.

“I very specifically went there that day because I didn’t want to get into a situation where I would think about taking an overdose of medication,” explained Mentler. “The more I think about it, I think it brings up more and more ethical and moral questions around it.”

Mentler also highlights that despite having never considered MAID before, she was astonished that the clinician described it as a more “comfortable” alternative to dying than overdosing on medication which she said could cause brain damage and other serious harms.

Afterwards, she left the center wanting to erase her exchange with the clinician from her mind. The next day, she said she woke up in a very emotional state, and shared her experience with some friends, all of whom agreed her treatment at the hospital was alarming.

The Globe and Mail reportedly spoke with a spokesperson from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), who attempted to claim that the recommendation of MAID was brought up “not as a suggestion, but as a tool to assess [her] risk of self-harm.”

Continuing, Jeremy Deutsch, public affairs leader for VCH, explained that “during patient assessments of this nature, difficult questions are often asked by clinicians to determine the appropriate care and risk to the patient.” 

Deutsch added: “staff are to explore all available care options for the patient and a clinical evaluation with a client who presents with suicidality may include questions about whether they have considered MAID as part of their contemplations. We understand this conversation could be upsetting for some, and share our deepest apologies for any distress caused by this incident.”

In response to his statement, Mentler expressed that she is unconvinced.

“Gauging suicide [risk] should not include offering options to die, which is what it felt like,” she said. “I also think it’s worth considering that, as of right now, MAID for mental health is not legal yet, so giving someone the specifics of the process seems wrong. How can this be standard procedure for suicide crisis intervention?”

This is not the first time MAID has raised questions about its ethics. As previously reported by The Publica, a 47-year-old Toronto woman suffering from severe anorexia was encouraged by her psychiatrist to research medically assisted suicide in 2021.

Lisa Pauli, who weighs just 92lbs, explained in an interview with Reuters that her anorexia has made it difficult to perform daily tasks like carrying groceries and doing laundry.

“Every day is hell … I’m so tired. I’m done,” she said, “I’ve tried everything. I feel like I’ve lived my life.” Despite many people pleading with her to get help, Pauli explains: “She would rather die than recover and gain weight.”

A 33-year-old paraplegic woman and single mother of three similarly announced she had applied for assisted suicide because it was “easier to access than the support services” she needed, according to The Publica.

Speaking to CBC, bedridden Rose Finlay of Bowmanville, Ontario, said that a representative at the Ontario Disability Support Program told her getting approved for disability takes six to eight months. In contrast, the approval period for MAID only takes three months.

“That tells me that our government is not prioritizing the lives of disabled people and that it is easier to let disabled people go than it is to actually give them the assistance that they need,” Finlay said.

Explaining she applied for MAID in March, Finlay added: “It’s not what I want … but if I don’t receive the support that I need, the outcome is the same. If I get to a point where I am really sick and basically terminally ill anyways, I would like to have other options.”

MAID was legalized in Canada in 2016 for people with “reasonably foreseeable” deaths and “incurable conditions who [are] suffering intolerably.” In 2021, the law expanded to include “incurable conditions that did not have an imminent risk of death.” 

Although the government has paused access to MAID for mentally ill patients to be studied further, court rulings have dropped almost all remaining limitations.

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