An expert has told a special joint committee of the House of Commons and the Senate that people with mental illness can suffer for decades and their suffering is as real as someone suffering physical pain.

Only people with mental illness will be eligible for assisted dying in March, and Dr. Justin Dambo, a psychiatrist and clinical aid in dying assessment, also told the committee about the perpetuation of stigma around mental illness. warned

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Mental health advocates have warned that the outcome and treatment of mental illnesses are difficult to predict, and that the wish to die is often a symptom, but an expert panel earlier this year said that medical help The existing eligibility criteria and safeguards in the dying legislation will suffice.

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Both arguments were made today by a handful of witnesses before the committee, which is considering what policies to recommend to lawmakers before a March deadline.


Advocate Alan Cohen, coordinator of the National Mental Health Inclusion Network, told committee members that Canada needs laws to help patients, not hurt them.

“I don’t believe any safety measures were suggested,” he said.

He resigned in December 2021 from the Federal Government’s MAID and Mental Illness Expert Panel. He said there was no place to identify how vulnerable people could be protected.

The panel released its report on May 13, concluding that existing eligibility criteria and protections would be sufficient “as long as they are properly interpreted in light of the specificity of mental disorders.”

Dembo, who was one of the expert panel members, said that following these guidelines for people with mental disorders “will ensure a very comprehensive, thorough and careful approach.”

He told the committee that people suffering from mental disorders can suffer for decades.

“To just say that someone with a mental illness shouldn’t be qualified, with this big blanket statement, where people don’t even get a chance to be evaluated as unique individuals in their circumstances, to me,” he said. It’s so disgraceful.” .

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While the interim report released earlier this year stopped short of making its recommendations, it urged the government to take steps to implement the expert panel’s recommendations “in a timely manner”.

A final report from the committee, complete with recommendations, which address other areas including access to adult minors, prior petitions, remedial status and protections for persons with disabilities, is due Oct. 17.

Cohen called the timeline for extending the legislation to March unrealistic.

“I would like to see this government push back that deadline,” he said.

But Dambo disagreed, telling MPs and senators that reviewers were already gaining experience following existing guidelines.

“Whether or not March 2023 is a realistic deadline depends on how committed and effective the various provincial bodies and local bodies can be in implementing the guidelines based on the panel report. I hope they do so.” “Can,” he said.

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The committee’s review was mandated in the MAID legislation, which required a parliamentary review to begin five years after the law came into force in 2016. The committee began work in 2021 before disbanding ahead of last fall’s federal election.

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The Panel and Committee use the term “mental disorders” instead of “mental illness” in their reports, stating that this usage may cause confusion.

Conservative MPs on the committee tabled a controversial interim report earlier this year, saying simply endorsing the panel’s recommendations would be “problematic”.

MPs argued that there were “too many unanswered questions” on the subject, and nothing prevented the committee from reconsidering whether these types of people should be offered help in dying.

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“Legislation of this nature needs to be guided by science, not ideology,” the Conservatives wrote in May, warning that an outcome that could “facilitate the d*aths of Canadians who could be better off.” would be completely unacceptable.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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