Canada to legalize medically assisted death for substance abuse

Nov 23, 2023

In March 2024, changes to the legislation for medically assisted dying (MAID) will allow individuals suffering solely from a mental illness to access assisted suicide. Currently, individuals suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and personality disorders with no physical ailments are not eligible for MAID.

In recent years, numerous mental health advocates have been urging the federal government to permit individuals suffering from incurable mental illness to access assisted suicide.

“I don’t think it’s fair … to exclude people from eligibility because their medical disorder or their suffering is related to a mental illness,” said Dr. David Martell, an addictions specialist at Nova Scotia Health, in his interview with VICE. “As a subset of that, it’s not fair to exclude people from eligibility purely because their mental disorder might either partly or in full be a substance use disorder. It has to do with treating people equally.”

However, there have also been concerns regarding MAID being used in lieu of accessing support services and treatment by individuals suffering from addiction and homelessness.

“I just think that MAID when it has entered the area around mental health and substance use is really rooted in eugenics,” Zoë Dodd, a Toronto-based harm reduction advocate, told VICE. “And there are people who are really struggling around substance use and people do not actually get the kind of support and help they need.”

Vancouver drug policy analyst and activist Karen Ward said she considers the expansion of MAID to include people with substance use disorders a “statement in federal law that some people aren’t really human.” 

“The government has made death accessible while a better life remains impossible,” she said.  “Homes for all, guaranteed dignified incomes, access to healthcare, education and employment: these aren’t radical demands,” she told VICE News.

 According to data presented by Statistics Canada, MAID accounted for 3.3% of all deaths in Canada in 2021, which corresponds to over 10,000 deaths and an increase from 2.4% of all reported deaths in the previous year.

The number of cases of MAID in 2021 represents an increase of 32.4% compared to 2020. In addition, all provinces continue to experience a steady growth in MAID cases. Since 2016, when the MAID legislation was approved,  there have been a total of 31,664 MAID provisions reported from all sources.