Windsor, Ont., father — who lost his son due to mental illness — questions MAID expansion delay
Canada's federal government says health-care system isn't ready for expansion
WARNING: This story includes details about suicide.
Windsor, Ont., resident Graham Clayton knows that his son would have preferred medical assistance in dying, rather than taking his own life. But it wasn't an option for the 27-year-old who battled severe mental illness — and several years later, Clayton's not surprised that it still isn't one.
"That's what he hoped for," Clayton told CBC News on Tuesday.
"He [said], 'If I could die, in my home, with my family and friends, that would be wonderful.'"
Instead, Clayton says his son Adam Maier-Clayton died by himself in a Windsor hotel room in April 2017. Following the federal government's decision to pause expanding medical assistance in dying (MAID) last week, Clayton spoke with CBC News and reflected on the issue, as well as his son's MAID advocacy work.
"It would have been easier for Adam [had he received MAID]," said Clayton.
"He would have been able to say goodbye, kisses and hugs and so on. He would have really liked to have had that. And it would have been better, still very, very sad, but better."
Adam, a business school graduate, spoke with CBC News in 2016. At the time, he was pushing for MAID to be granted to people with mental illness.
He said he battled anxiety, mood disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder since he was a child.
Adam had told CBC News that his debilitating pain felt like parts of his body were being burned by acid. Despite a host of treatments, some of them experimental, he said that his agony only worsened.
Clayton says Adam used to tell him that when the pain gets to be too much, he will make the decision to end his own life.
"And that's exactly what he did," Clayton said.
Health-care system isn't ready: government
The government has delayed expanding MAID eligibility for people suffering solely from mental illness until 2027.
New legislation passed in 2021 delayed by two years the extension of MAID to include those who suffer from mental illness. That deadline was later pushed back to March 17 of this year.
Last week, Health Minister Mark Holland introduced the legislation and Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters that the delay was needed until Canada's health-care system is ready to implement the expansion.
"Because of the significance of the decision, because of the nature of the consequences of this kind of policy; we have to ensure that we get it right, and we're determined to do just that," Virani said.
"Putting a pause on it for the next three years will ensure the system readiness, which is what the health-care system has indicated."
Holland said he had no choice but to introduce the legislation.
"Every single province, every territory, said they're not ready. CAMH [The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] said they're not ready. The Canadian Mental Health Association said they're not ready," Holland said.
Bioethicist says more supports needed for people with mental illness
But Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, disagrees.
He says he thinks the health-care system is as ready as it can be to take on this expansion and thinks it's a form of discrimination to say that "the type of suffering associated ... with aggressive cancers, we're willing to deal with that but the type of suffering associated with a long term mental health disorder, we're not."
But he added that there are social issues that play into the MAID debate.
WATCH: Bioethicist shares his thoughts on MAID
Access to housing and timely psychiatric care could be improved to better support people with mental illness, he said.
"I think the only way to deal with this ethically is to build a system that is far more respectful to people with mental health challenges and offer them more support," he said.
Psychiatrists in Canada are currently divided on MAID, according to a survey from the Ontario Psychiatrist Association.
Bowman says a big concern with MAID is that psychiatrists say it's hard to determine that someone with a mental illness is untreatable because there's so much that's still unknown in the field and there are always new treatments that people could respond to better than others.
But Bowman says at the end of the day, it should be about what patients want.
"When a patient says, 'I've lived with this disorder for 15 or 20 or whatever years, it's hell on Earth, nothing I've tried has worked for me,' I think we have to listen to the patient and not the psychiatrist," he said.
'Non-existence is better than this'
But Clayton says he can't understand why there's been so many delays.
"How long does it take?" he said, emphasizing that people are suffering.
"It's what my son predicted, he [said], 'They're going to drag their feet on this as long as they can.'"
Clayton says that he thinks people with mental illness as severe as what his son went through should at least have the option of dying in a more dignified way, rather than taking their own lives.
"When you have a family member, in particular a child that's suffering like that and there's nothing you can do for them, then you understand why they want out and if the government won't allow it, they'll do it themselves," he said.
He says he wants politicians and health-care workers who are behind the decisions with MAID to know that people suffering from mental illness are "not irrational."
When referencing his mental anguish, Adam told CBC News in 2016 that "non-existence is better than this."
"The real reason for someone like me wanting the right to die is simple: Once there's no quality of life, life is akin to a meaningless existence."
If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:
Canada's Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call or text 988.
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. Text 686868. Live chat counselling on the website.
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.
With files from Amina Zafar