An assumption for the purposes of the case – these circumstances are happening in the perhaps not-too-distant future after the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down Bill C-14’s ‘reasonably foreseeable death’ criterion.
Sally York is a 54 year-old, single, unemployed woman who has a longstanding history of treatment-resistant major depressive disorder. Her mother experienced recurrent major depressive episodes throughout her adulthood, and one of her paternal uncles was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder. Sally experienced her first major depressive episode at the age of 11½ while she was transitioning through puberty. In the last 15 years, she has experienced multiple, persistent, disabling depressive symptoms including: significant depressive dysphoria, obsessive negative rumination, intense social anxiety, heightened irritability, lack of interest in normal activities of daily living and her former hobbies, impaired concentration and focus, reduced appetite and with associated difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, prolonged, early morning waking, and suicidal ideation. Sally has been followed by numerous psychiatrists and clinical psychologists over her lifetime, and she has been trialed on a wide variety of treatment modalities including three generations of antidepressant medications and multiple augmentation agents (atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsant medications, mood stabilizers and T3 thyroid medication). She has been actively engaged in courses of many different types of psychotherapy including supportive, insight-oriented, cognitive-behavioural, interpersonal and mindfulness-based types. She has tried and failed transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment. Although Sally has been offered trials of ECT, she has never wished to pursue this treatment intervention due to her mother’s reports of bad experiences with it in the years before her death. She was involuntarily hospitalized on four occasions in the past because of temporary formed suicidal intent.
Sally’s other active health conditions include irritable bowel syndrome, chronic mixed migraine-tension headaches, and chronic, significant shoulder girdle myofascial pain. Her chronic pain remains active despite trials of physiotherapy, massage therapy, exercise therapy, myofascial trigger-point injections, regular opioid medication, and a neuropathic pain modulator. A former attending psychiatrist believed that there was a component of somatic symptom disorder in Sally’s chronic pain presentation.
Sally’s quality of life has greatly deteriorated over the past four years due to her combined experience of persistent depression and chronic pain, although the latter has been less disabling than the former. This symptomatic worsening correlated with her financially-based decision (after leaving work for medical reasons) to move to a remote area of the Valley that is close to where her mother grew up. Without the direct support of a cognitive-behavioural therapist, Sally stopped doing her cognitive-behavioural exercises and slipped back into her former ways of looking at the world through the typical cognitive-distortions of depressed individuals, e.g., all-or-nothing thinking, mindreading, minimization of positives, etc. She spends most of her days in bed and struggles to get out of her small, government-subsidized apartment once a week to visit an elderly aunt. A friendly neighbour shops for her at the local supermarket once a week. Her medications are delivered to her by taxi through an arrangement with a pharmacy located in a nearby village. Although her medications are delivered in blister packs, she forgets to take them sometimes.
Sally has heard that MAiD is now legal in Canada but she doesn’t know much about it. She asks a cousin who lives in the nearest town, and who worked as a palliative care nurse in Halifax prior to his recent retirement, to come-by for coffee. Sally uses her enhanced knowledge from the conversation with her cousin to prepare herself for a visit to her family physician.
- What is your gut reaction on a ‘first read’ of these circumstances?
- Can legitimate distinctions be made between the experience of profound suffering arising from physical health disorders and the experience of profound suffering arising from mental health disorders?
- How could the psychiatric symptomatology and related lived-experiences of a person with a significant mental health disorder affect her/his capacity to make a decision regarding a personal request for MAiD.
- Are there particular mental health disorders that would preclude the making of an informed choice to request MAiD?
- What is currently known about the capacity of individuals who suffer from treatment-resistant major depressive disorder as this pertains to their making of meaningful decisions about their health care and treatment?