Canadian children not eligible for medical assistance in dying

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Canada legalized medical assistance in dying (MAID) for adults in 2016, but social media posts claim Ottawa recently approved the euthanasia of children suffering from depression without their parents' consent. This is misleading; MAID eligibility criteria are being reviewed and an association of physicians suggested expanding access to some minors, but no such law has passed -- and the government said it has "no immediate plans" to alter the minimum age requirement of 18.

"Canada just approved the euthanasia of children with depression. @Tucker Carlson compares it to what the Nazis did in Germany in the 1940s - killing the weak," says an October 30, 2022 tweet.

Screenshot of a tweet taken December 7, 2022

Similar posts have been shared hundreds of times on Twitter and Facebook.

Some of them include an excerpt from an October 26, 2022 broadcast in which Carlson, a Fox News host, says: "By March, a new law in Canada is expected to allow children to be killled by doctors, by state doctors, without the approval of their parents ... because the kids are depressed."

The social media outrage comes as Canada reviews its MAID law, as is required every five years.

The federal government says the MAID program -- first passed in 2016 following a 2015 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada -- is intended for people with a "grievous and irremediable condition." Mental illnesses are excluded, patients must be at least 18 years old and two independent health professionals have to approve the request after receiving informed consent.

Bill C-7, which received royal assent in March 2021, expanded access to MAID by repealing an eligibility provision that required "a person's natural death be reasonably foreseeable." This led to an influx of participants; the program's third annual report found "10,064 MAID provisions reported in Canada, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in Canada" in 2021.

But Natalie Mohamed, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, told AFP in a November 4, 2022 email that "there is no section in the law that allows for minors to receive medical assistance in dying, with or without parental consent, as minors are not eligible to apply for MAID under current Canadian law."

She added: "The Government of Canada has no immediate plans to alter the minimum age requirement to access MAID, though it will consider the advice of the Special Joint Committee on the matter of Mature Minors."

Mental illness

The Canadian government says MAID recipients must have "a serious illness, disease or disability," be "in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed" and "experience unbearable physical or mental suffering" that cannot be relieved under conditions the patient considers acceptable.

People whose mental illness is the sole condition leading them to consider MAID are not eligible under the law unless they have other medical issues, according to Hélène Guay, a lawyer specializing in health law. But that exclusion only remains in effect until March 17, 2023.

Health Canada's Mohamed said that "as of March 18, 2023, MAID requests by persons with a mental disorder as their sole underlying medical condition will be permitted," adding that "such requests will still need be assessed against the criteria and enhanced safeguards in the legislation."

MAID and minors

Minors were excluded from the 2016 legislation, and the recent decision to review potential eligibility has sparked heated debate.

"Given the issue was a contentious one requiring further examination, the Government of Canada commissioned a study by the Canadian Council of Academies on MAID for Minors," Mohamed said.

The Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying was put in place to review issues relating to mature minors and the protection of Canadians with disabilities, among others.

"The Committee is expected to present its report to Parliament by February 17, 2023," Mohamed said.

Louis Roy, inspector with the Directory of Professional Inspection of the Collège des médecins du Québec (CMQ), spoke in support of expanding eligibility before the Special Joint Committee on October 7, 2022 in Ottawa.

The CMQ wants adolescents deemed "mature," aged 14-17, to be eligible for MAID under the same criteria as adults, provided they receive parental consent. The CMQ also wants to make MAID available to infants when "the prognosis is very bleak and the living conditions appalling in cases of severe malformations or severe polysymptomatic syndromes, annihilating any prospect of relief and survival."

Following Roy's speech, public broadcaster CBC reported that the federal minister of disability inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, found the idea "completely shocking and unacceptable."

"I would never support going down that road," Qualtrough said.

Krista Carr, executive vice president of Inclusion Canada, told the National Post: "Most families of children born with disabilities are told from the start that their child will, in one way or another, not have a good quality of life."

She said: "Canada cannot begin killing babies when doctors predict there is no hope for them. Predictions are far too often based on discriminatory assumptions about life with a disability."

Despite facing criticism, the CMQ re-stated its position on October 14. The CMQ also told AFP on October 31 that "it is not the intention of the College to provide this care to babies born with a severe disability, impairment or mental illness," but rather "children who are born with conditions incompatible with life."

Who receives MAID?

The vast majority of Canadians who apply for MAID have serious underlying health conditions, according to the program's third annual report.

In 2021, cancer was the most commonly cited underlying medical condition, followed by cardiovascular, chronic respiratory and neurological conditions. The average MAID recipient was 76.3 years old.

Only 219 individuals, or 2.2 percent of all MAID cases, were people whose natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable, according to the report. Almost half of them cited underlying neurological conditions.

AFP previously debunked claims that MAID is "used to kill poor people."