Hard cases make bad law

The old adage that “hard cases make bad law” is no more evident than when it comes to euthanasia and the relentless push by euthanasia activists to change laws prohibiting the long standing prohibition on doctors killing their patients. The impacts on society and health care more broadly as a result have been swept under the carpet, as story after story encourages the public to focus on extreme stories of suffering.

A recent feature length opinion piece in the National Post is an example in point, chronicling the heartbreaking story of transwoman Savannah Meadows, who is pushing for laws to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide (known as MAiD) in Canada to include those with mental illness alone.

Savannah’s story is one filled with trauma, psychological distress, violence and suicide attempts. It is extreme and it is heartbreaking.

In Savannah’s words, “My mind is completely shot”. Savannah is not “currently under the care of a therapist”, but is nevertheless convinced that there is nothing that can be done and there is no treatment or cure that can help. 

Sometimes, the tragedy of the story masks the brutal reality of what these laws mean in practice. Savannah cannot be admitted to hospital for her mental illness or even her violent thoughts against her will. According to the National Post:

“It’s not up to any individual doctor or psychiatrist’s discretion. Not all people with violent thoughts are hospitalized, the doctors said. If someone were to arrive in an emergency room who said they had violent thoughts against people, but no specific target, no specific plan, if the last time they acted was in the context of being provoked and if they did not want to stay in hospital, they wouldn’t be kept against their will, because the situation would not meet the criteria for involuntary hospitalization set out in law.”

In other words, Canada is setting itself up for a situation where it will be easier for doctors to sign off on a patient’s death than their treatment.

Because of reasons like this, Canada’s parliament has just passed a law to delay the implementation of euthanasia for mental illness only for another year. The delay is designed to allow consideration of tighter protocols to apply to this new expanded category of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Savannah will not be permitted to apply for euthanasia until March 2024. She is devastated, saying “I know that I won’t last that long.”

Instead of seeing the tragedy of Savannah’s situation as a reason to urge for more public funding for mental health care in the country, the article instead appears to champion Savannah’s wish to die, and the need for the law to change. 

What is needed however is a consideration of the impact of these laws on the millions of other Canadians who will fall through the cracks and may wrongfully access the scheme rather than receiving the help they need to be healed and live. The delay in the Canadian parliament as these issues are considered is a good development.