By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
Psychiatrists who have worked all of their lives to prevent the suicide of psychiatric patients who are depressed and suicidal are now concerned that the Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide decision may put them into a place where they are expected to kill their patients.
I have written in the past about the imprecise and dangerous language in the Supreme Court of Canada assisted suicide decision. An article, written by Sharon Kirkey, and published in the National Post outlines the concerns of Canadian Psychiatrists in relation to that decision.
According to the National Post article, Dr Padriac Carr, who is the president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association and professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta, said that:
“I have been approached by many psychiatrists who have serious concerns about physician assisted death being applied to mental illnesses,”
Dr Carr outlines his concerns with the imprecise language in the Supreme Court decision.
“Legal definitions are extremely important here,” he said. “Remediable” could be defined as treatable, or curable. In psychiatry, he said, “complete cures are quite rare.” Most treatments are directed at relieving symptoms.
“If ‘remediable’ implies a cure, then almost all psychiatric illnesses could be considered ‘irremediable,’” he said.
If, on the other hand, “remediable” is defined as treatable, most psychiatric illnesses wouldn’t meet the standard, “because there are almost always treatment options we can try,” Carr said.
“Intolerable” and “enduring” suffering are also problematic, he said. Symptoms of psychiatric illness can wax and wane over time, Carr said. “For weeks or months, a patient could be suicidal, and yet that situation could change.”
Whether or not psychiatric conditions will be approved for death by euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada, Dr Carr made it clear that:
"some psychiatrists want no role whatsoever in assisted suicide or euthanasia."
At the same time, many physicians want a psychiatric assessment done when a person who asks for euthanasia or assisted suicide.