Bioethics Blogs

Assisted Dying, Mental Illness, & Patient Age

Ellen Wiebe, a physician who has provided medical assistance in dying, discusses her views about providing this service when the request is from a young person suffering from mental illness.


Earlier this year I assisted the only person in Canada known to have received medical assistance in dying primarily for suffering caused by mental illness. The patient, identified as EF by the Alberta Court that granted her permission to access medical assistance in dying, died peacefully in Vancouver on June 1, 2016. She was surrounded by friends and family. The four judges who heard her case, her family doctor, and I had no hesitation in respecting her right to end her suffering.

A few weeks later, on June 16, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)” received Royal Assent. According to the Act, people are eligible for medical assistance in dying as long as they meet all of the following criteria:

(a) they are eligible … for health services funded by a government in Canada;

(b) they are at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health;

(c) they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;

(d) they have made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure; and

(e) they give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying after having been informed of the means that are available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.