A Stop on Canada’s Euthanasia Slippery Slope

The Canadian pro-life movement rarely gets good news. But this week it got something to give a glimmer of hope that the slippery slope of legalized euthanasia may be finally arrested.

A Canadian flag waves in Ottawa with Parliament Hill in the background.
A Canadian flag waves in Ottawa with Parliament Hill in the background. (photo: Shutterstock)

The Canadian pro-life movement rarely gets good news. But this week it got something to give a glimmer of hope that the slippery slope of legalized euthanasia may be finally arrested.

A parliamentary committee looking into expanding euthanasia to the mentally ill concluded that Canada should delay such a move indefinitely. It was originally to go into effect in March 2023 but was then delayed for further study till March 2024. Now, it’s been pushed back again.

On Feb. 1 the government announced it would not do anything until 2027, citing the need for more study.

Some hope this means the expansion is off the table for good. 

Canada’s Liberal federal government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is comprised of enthusiastic supporters of euthanasia, or as they call it in Canada: “Medical Aid in Dying,” or MAID. It’s a gentler way of saying euthanasia or just plain killing. 

The experts involved could not come up with a safe way to assess who might be eligible to end their lives when mental illness was the sole medical issue. 

For one, the committee report noted that there were not enough psychiatrists to adequately assess applicants for euthanasia. In other words, there is a serious problem with mental-health care in Canada and that needs to be addressed.

Esteemed Canadian columnist Chris Selley, writing in the National Post newspaper, pointed out how perverse this has become.

“It’s a grotesque notion: Once we get a handle on Canada’s myriad mental health-care crises, then we’ll be in a morally justifiable position to euthanize the mentally ill? Once we solve the housing crisis, then it’ll be fine to euthanize the homeless? These are artifacts of a debate that has gone miles off the rails.”

When Trudeau was first elected as prime minister in November 2015, he promised that one of his first acts would be to make euthanasia legal in some cases. 

He was true to his word. Euthanasia was made legal in June 2016. Polls showed that roughly 80% of Canadians supported legalized euthanasia. It also showed 70% of Catholics supported legalization.

At first, it was only available to those near death and in intractable pain. Pro-life groups warned of the “slippery slope.” That argument was dismissed by the Liberals and other supporters as fearmongering. But in 2021, it was expanded to include those not near death but dealing with “grievous and irremediable” conditions. 

Not long after, the government began to discuss euthanasia for those with mental illness and even suggested that teens could one day be eligible to be euthanized.

It’s clear that the experts who have been reviewing this for at least several years cannot come up with a working definition of mental illness for the purposes of accessing euthanasia. Some doubt they ever will.

“Doctor after doctor testified [at the parliamentary hearing] that it is practically impossible to assess the competence of some patients with mental illness who are requesting,” Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told the Register.  

She added, “Making MAID a ‘choice,’ as if it were a treatment option, is counterproductive to our view of the wholeness of the human person and the realization that many of us, though perhaps broken for a time, recover, revive and live our lives again. MAID rejects such hope and provides a more instant solution to a perceived problem, and there is reason to think someone could opt for MAID while in a ‘down’ spiral yet move away from that death wish in another month or so, when life regains its savour.”

Public support for euthanasia for the mentally stands now at 28%, while 50% of Canadians oppose it outright, the Angus Reid Institute found last September

The poll also found something that points to Canada’s woebegone mental-health services: The greatest support (41%) for the expansion of euthanasia came from those with psychiatric problems who were frustrated by the difficulty in finding services.

Dr. Jitender Sareen, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, testified the assessment of patients who request euthanasia does not require a psychiatrist to take part. Nor, he told the committee, was it clear how many treatments a patient should undergo before being allowed to die.

Despite the myriad objections to expanding euthanasia to the mentally ill, many worry Canada’s lawmakers will be reluctant to shut down this project for good. Given the government’s history on this issue, there is real cause to worry. 

Few want to acknowledge that this entire enterprise is reminiscent of the German euthanasia program of the 1930s. Not that Canada’s politicians are Nazis, but they are applying the same logic: Rather than cure, kill; put people out of their misery in the most expedient and “humane” fashion. 

Dr. Ed Rzadki, a Catholic who has practiced psychiatry in Toronto for 56 years, also worries that this delay will not become permanent.

“I was pleased to hear that MAID for persons suffering from mental disorders will be deferred again for an unspecified length of time,” he told the Register. “Would that it be deferred permanently, I am not hopeful for that to occur.”

“The reasons given for the postponement have more to do with the complexities surrounding the implementation rather than recognizing that mental disorders are not terminal illnesses. We need to invest more in suicide prevention rather than assisting our patients to end their lives by legally sanctioned suicide.”

He added: “Rather than promote early dying, let’s promote more services for this population so that they may achieve the caring, love and respect they deserve. Promoting euthanasia for persons with mental distress does more to stigmatize them as unwanted in our society.”