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Concern grows over ‘medical assistance in dying for mental illness’ law


Is the United States next?

Although Canada and the United States share a border, it’s unlikely that U.S. states will allow aid in dying for nonterminal illness, much less for psychiatric conditions any time soon, said Dr. Braswell and others.

Ten states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – have laws allowing assistance in dying, but for terminal illness only.

In 2016, the APA adopted the American Medical Association policy on medical euthanasia, stating, “that a psychiatrist should not prescribe or administer any intervention to a nonterminally ill person for the purpose of causing death.”

Dr. Brendel said the field is acutely aware that people with mental illness do suffer, but that more work needs to be done – and is being done – on “distinguishing wishes to hasten death or end one’s life from these historical or traditional notions that any premature death is a suicide.”

There is also increasing discussion within the medical community, not just psychiatry, about a physician’s duty to relieve suffering, said Dr. Wynia. “There’s debate basically about whether we stand for preserving life essentially at all costs and never being involved in the taking of life, or whether we stand for reduction of suffering and being the advocate for the patients that we serve,” he said.

“Those are both legitimate,” said Dr. Wynia, adding, “there are good reasons to want both of those to be true.”

“I suspect that 20 years from now we will still be having conversations about how physicians, how psychiatrists ought to participate in preserving life and in shepherding death,” said Dr. Brendel.

But to Dr. Gaind, the debate is not just esoteric, it’s a soon-to-be reality in Canada. “When we’re providing death to people who aren’t dying, to me that’s like providing what amounts to a wrongful death,” he said.

A version of this article originally appeared on


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