Canada hospital apologises for mentioning assisted suicide programme to woman experiencing suicidal thoughts

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A hospital in Vancouver has issued an apology after mentioning “medical assistance in dying” (MAID) to a patient seeking psychiatric care for suicidal thoughts. Kathrin Mentler, a 37-year-old woman suffering from long-term chronic depression, went to Vancouver General Hospital in June following a traumatic event that worsened her condition. She was informed by a clinician that the system was overwhelmed, resulting in a long wait to see a psychiatrist. Additionally, the clinician asked her if she had considered MAID. Vancouver Coastal Health, the hospital’s operator, acknowledged that MAID was brought up during the conversation but stated that it was intended to assess her risk of suicide rather than suggest the option.

According to a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health, when patients present with thoughts of suicide, staff conduct a clinical evaluation and explore all available care options, including the consideration of MAID. However, they expressed understanding that this conversation could be distressing and offered their sincere apologies for any upset it may have caused.

Medical assistance in dying has been legal in Canada since 2016 for residents with terminal illnesses. In 2021, the law was expanded to include individuals living with debilitating disabilities or pain, even if their lives are not immediately at risk. However, the Canadian government has temporarily halted plans to extend assisted dying to patients with mental illness alone.

Ms. Mentler, a counseling student, has experienced depression, anxiety, and chronic suicidal thoughts for a long time but still finds joy in life. On the day she visited the hospital, her goal was to ensure her safety, potentially by seeking admission. She found it upsetting to learn about another patient who had found “relief” in death, which made her feel that her own life was worthless or a problem to be solved through MAID.

The issue of assisted dying has sparked division among the medical community and religious activists in Canada and the United States. While advocates argue that it promotes compassion, an end to suffering and discrimination, and personal autonomy, opponents believe that the regulations are prone to abuse, lacking necessary safeguards, and potentially devaluing the lives of disabled individuals.

Currently, ten states in the United States, as well as Washington DC, have legalized assisted dying, and four more states (New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) are considering enacting such legislation. In Canada, a retired army colonel and Paralympian testified in front of a veterans affairs committee that she was offered medical assistance in dying while advocating for a wheelchair lift installation in her home. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an apology in response to the incident.

In July, Lisa Pauli, a 47-year-old who has battled anorexia for decades, expressed her anticipation for the expansion of MAID legislation to include individuals with mental conditions, as it would provide them with the option to legally end their lives. Should anyone experience distress, isolation, or difficulty coping, the National Suicide Prevention Helpline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the United States. In the UK, the Samaritans offer support and can be reached at 116 123 (UK and ROI) or via email at [email protected].

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