February 18, 2016 6:28 pm
Updated: February 18, 2016 9:19 pm

Should assisted-dying legislation include mental suffering?

Senator Denise Batters is shown outside the Senate chambers on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. A Conservative senator who became a mental health advocate in wake of her husband's death wants the federal government to not include psychological suffering in its upcoming assisted-death legislation. Denise Batters, the widow of former Tory MP Dave Batters, said people suffering from issues including anxiety and depression need support and resources even if they have already given up on themselves.


OTTAWA – Psychological suffering should be excluded from future assisted-death legislation, says a Conservative senator who became a mental-health advocate in the wake of her husband’s suicide.

Sen. Denise Batters, the widow of former Tory MP Dave Batters, said people suffering from mental-health challenges need support and resources even if they have given up on themselves.

Batters said she unfortunately has insight into how a suicidal mind works because her husband took his own life in 2009 after a battle with severe anxiety and depression.

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“I have seen … the devastating impact, not only for the individual that goes through that pain themselves … but at the same time … I’ve seen the devastating consequences that it can have on the immediate family members,” Batters said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Canadians want to see strong safeguards in the upcoming bill, she noted.

“Canadians may support assisted suicide, but they want extremely strong safeguards and I think that when I talk to people about the possibility of psychological suffering being included as … sole grounds for having access to physician-assisted suicide, they are horrified and stunned that could be a possibility,” she said.

Mental-health problems can be treated, Batters added.

“Unfortunately, my situation with my husband, did not have a good ending … however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many, many thousands of people in this country who have lived through a period of severe anxiety and depression and come out the other side,” she said.

READ MORE: How should doctors help people die? Canada’s competing assisted-death guidelines, explained

A special joint committee of senators and MPs is preparing recommendations to the government as it looks to draft assisted-suicide legislation in response to a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year.

The high court recognized the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to end their lives with a doctor’s help.

In its submission to the committee, the Mental Health Commission of Canada noted there is a considerable lack of consensus around the implications, applicability and potential safeguards for people with mental illness.

“The Mental Health Commission of Canada wanted to underscore the importance of the mental health of both those seeking physician-assisted death and end-of-life care providers,” said president Louise Bradley.

The commission has not made a policy decision on whether psychological suffering should be included in the legislation, she noted, but said it expects there will be consultation with experts and mental-health stakeholders on the issue.

READ MORE: Supreme Court gives feds an extra 4 months on physician-assisted death

The Liberals have already indicated they won’t allow their MPs a free vote on the future assisted-death bill because it is a charter issue.

“We respect the right of the Supreme Court to give guidance to the Parliament of Canada,” Liberal whip Andrew Leslie said Wednesday.

“The Supreme Court has made the decision. It’s our role to support that.”

The Grits should reconsider asking MPs to toe the party line on an issue of this nature, Batters said.

“I urge the Liberal caucus to think twice about that and give their members of Parliament the opportunity to vote with their conscience,” she said.

Batters, a lawyer who worked as the chief of staff to Saskatchewan’s minister of justice from 2007 to 2012, said it can be challenging to speak about her family’s story but it also gives her strength.

“It really helps me to know that I might be helping somebody by something I’m saying and if I can prevent somebody else from being in the situation I’m in, basically an unwilling family survivor of suicide,” Batters said.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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