Veteran cases raise new concerns about expansion of assisted dying law

Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medical-assisted death while seeking help from the federal government add to concerns about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental health injuries and illnesses.

Instead, veterans’ organizations are calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental health services for former service members, including addressing the long wait times many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental health injuries can be terminal only if they are left untreated, supported and resourced,” said Wounded Warriors CEO Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental health support programs for veterans and lifeguards.

“That should be our focus: resource, finance and invest in timely access to culturally competent and occupationally aware mental health care.”

While medical aid in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering physical injury and illness, the criteria for MAID it is scheduled to expand in March to include those living with mental health conditions.

While that plan has already prompted warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on sick and injured former soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who approached Veterans Affairs Canada for help over the past three years received counseling on assisted dying.

Among them is retired Canadian Paralympian and corporal Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in his house.

The federal government blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager acted alone and his case was referred to the RCMP. It also says that training and orientation have been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

However, the issue has raised fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID are expanded in March, particularly as many mentally and physically injured veterans continue to wait months, and even years, for federal aid.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veteran community, as well as the Veterans’ Ombudsman, the Auditor General of Canada and others about the negative impact such wait times are having. taking in former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when treatment options are available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” he recently testified before the House of Commons. Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network. Veterans Affairs Committee.

And despite government claims that a single Veterans Affairs employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to the anger and longstanding fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and re-traumatized by this situation, viewing it as an extension of the VAC’s ‘deny, delay and die’ perception to veterans,” he told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is seeking to strike the right balance between providing access to assisted dying and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay in the proposed expansion of MAID, saying patients need better access to care, including addiction.

Conservatives also called for a delay, with critic of democratic reform Michael Cooper stressing the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who come to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental health problems stemming from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential for the government to increase access to services for veterans.

“We must always make sure that resources and services are available,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first choice for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 4, 2022.

Leave a Comment