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Canadian woman seeking help with suicidal thoughts offered plan to die

woman, doctor, bad news

Monkey Business Images | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 08/31/23

Kathrin Mentler is questioning how Medical Assistance in Dying is an appropriate suggestion for a patient seeking to live through suicidal thoughts.

A Vancouver woman who went to the hospital for help with suicidal thoughtswas dismayed when the clinician suggested that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) might be the solution. MAiD for those who suffer from mental illness will become legal in Canada in 2024.

When Kathrin Mentler, a 37-year-old who grapples with depression and suicidality, visited Vancouver General Hospital, she did so specifically because she wanted to live and needed help to do so. According to the Globe and Mail, however, Mentler was informed that there would be a long wait to see a psychiatrist, that the “system was broken.” She was finally asked if she had considered MAiD as an option. 

The idea was so out of line with the treatment she sought that Mentler said she didn’t initially understand what the clinician meant, thinking it was something more along the lines of “like a maid that cleans a room.”

The line of questioning put her on edge, and she admitted that she had attempted to take her own life before through overdosing on medication. At this point the clinician went through the details of the process behind MAiD, making it sound like an attractive and “comfortable” procedure. 

Mentler said she left the hospital quickly, not wanting to think about the situation, but the next day she woke up feeling emotional about it and turned to a private social media group that she frequents, which echoed her own unease with the proposal. 

“I very specifically went there that day because I didn’t want to get into a situation where I would think about taking an overdose of medication,” Ms. Mentler, a first-year counseling student, told The Globe and Mail in an interview. She added, “The more I think about it, I think it brings up more and more ethical and moral questions around it.”

“Care” options

The hospital has defended the clinician’s actions as “difficult questions” that must be asked of patients in order to “determine the appropriate care and risk to the patient.”

They stated that their doctors are required to “explore all available care options” and that asking if they have considered MAiD is routine questioning for patients who exhibit suicidality. They did however note: 

“We understand this conversation could be upsetting for some, and share our deepest apologies for any distress caused by this incident.”

To Mentler, this explanation was not satisfying. She noted that it is not yet even legal to offer MAiD to those with mental health issues, and questioned how medically assisted suicide can be thought of as proper treatment for patients with suicidal thoughts who seek help to live:

“Gauging suicide [risk] should not include offering options to die, which is what it felt like,” she said. “I also think it’s worth considering that, as of right now, MAiD for mental health is not legal yet, so giving someone the specifics of the process seems wrong. How can this be standard procedure for suicide crisis intervention?”

MAiD was first introduced to Canadian law in 2016, when it was legalized in cases of “reasonably foreseeable” death. In 2021, however, lawmakers expanded the scope to include those with incurable conditions who “suffer intolerably,” which includes mental illness. While the government has paused the legislation while a new study is conducted, it is expected to go into effect in March 2024. 

CanadaMental Health
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