The Question of Assisted Suicide

August 12, 2017
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

By Brendan Cole – Graduate Intern

Recently, Mad in America, a website that publishes topics regarding Science, Psychiatry, and Social Justice, posted an interesting article called, “Adam Maier-Clayton: Assisted Suicide and Mental Illness.” Author Susan Stefan explains how the life and death of Adam Maier-Clayton should raise future discussion and debate for the future of assisted suicide.

What made this story so interesting was Adams inability to find a diagnosis for his intense physical pain. Adam, a Canada resident, willingly tested in treatments for medical and psychological, went under different medication, therapies, worked out routinely and even used medical marijuana. Adam wanted to live very much, the author says, but simply didn’t want to live a life of unremitting pain.

The question for debate is: Is someone like Adam fit to be accepted in an assisted suicide case? According to Canadian law, Adam was not initially eligible for assisted suicide because he did not have a terminal illness. According to Canadian laws, it is legal for a Physician-assisted suicide where doctors can legally help sick people die. According to the law, an individual must be eligible for government-funded health care (a requirement limiting assisted suicides to Canadians and permanent residents, to prevent suicide tourism), be a mentally competent adult

18 or older, have a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability, and/or be in an ‘advanced state of irreversible decline,' with enduring and intolerable suffering (BILL C-14).

Where does mental illness fall into this category? My initial reaction would be to oppose assisted death/suicide. I understand where terminal pain or inevitable death comes into play but for me to agree with suicide and additionally third-party assistance goes against my gut.

However, I would also say it’s important for me to recognize that mental illness can be just as severe as any other medical condition. What makes this difficult for me, and as I am sure for others, is the level of measurability. For someone like Adam, was everything done that could possibly be done? Was there anything missed or not tested enough? In addition, is it ethical to pro-long any serious pain in order to search for a defined “cause” as if the initial symptoms of Adam weren’t enough?

Personally, my case was not rested and I don’t believe I’ll ever be in full support of assisted suicide. However, when it came to Adam, we could recognize that he was far from impulsive and was very patient during the year the court didn’t allow him to pass through with the assisted death. In this case, because Adam was competent, patient, and yet still in pain, it seems as though his decision was best, but was it? He waited for a possible way to alter his life events but none came. Is it ethical to prolong the life of pain even though his medical condition wasn’t something that could be diagnosed? When it comes to the life and death of an individual, I believe it 100% falls in the hands of the individual. However, while it's ultimately up to the individual, I also believe there need to be more people involved, from physicians to close family members and friends in order to properly assess and measure the situation.

This is a difficult subject to breach but also has the means of a good debate. Ultimately, life is precious and the decision to take a life, whether it’s your own or you’re the physician, should not be taken lightly in the slightest.

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