Dr. Kelly G. Fitzgerald has a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Gerontology from the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) and a Master of Public Administration from Georgia State University. Currently she is an Adjunct Professor in the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Associate Lecturer for the Management of Aging Services (Master of Science) program at UMB, and Graduate Faculty member at Western Kentucky University (WKU) where she teaches online graduate and undergraduate gerontology courses and supports various research projects. She has also developed and conducted several research and training projects for various governmental and non-governmental (NGO) organizations.
Since 2012, Dr. Fitzgerald has represented the International Federation on Ageing at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. In May 2014 she was elected as Vice-Chair of the UN NGO Committee on Ageing in Geneva and continues to serve in this position.
Dr. Fitzgerald has a broad interest in aging topics and has been active with several different organizations. A few examples include supporting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, serving as Chair for the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education’s (AGHE) Global Aging Committee, and is an AGHE Fellow and a Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Fellow. Her research, training, and publications focus mainly on disasters and older adults, age-friendly cities, refugees, and ageism.
Open for business. Is Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), assisted suicide, or euthanasia ever appropriate for older persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disability. A debate
Moderator: Mr. Craig Mokhiber
Dr. Bill Reichman
Dr. Jacobo Mintzer
Patricia Bovey, Canada
Cees Hertogh, Netherlands
Daniel Fu-ChangTsai, Taiwan
Lukas Radbruch, Germany
Mark Lachmann, Canada
Viren N. Naik, Canada
The word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek euthanatos, which means “easy death”. Euthanasia, assisted suicide and medical assistance in dying (MAiD) will be used interchangeably in this symposium. This has long been a controversial and emotional topic, with recent societal opinions leaning in favor of it, accounting for between 0.3 and 4.6 % of deaths in countries where it is legalized. This debate will use an ageism and human rights lens to focus on the complex factors in offering MAiD to older persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disability.
MAiD has been accessible to eligible Canadians since June 2016. 5,631 Canadians (average age 75.2 years) accessed MAiD in 2019 of which 80% were age 65 or older. Persons with mental illness alone do not currently have access to MAiD, but this is about to change. On March 17, 2021, the laws governing MAiD were amended to open access to MAiD for persons with mental illness alone. The potential impact of this is that suicidal, non-dying, marginalized people suffering from life distress, psychosocial disability, and mental health conditions, with potential to recover with care or treatment may have access to MAiD in Canada.
This controversy has sparked a huge debate.
Many persons with disabilities and human rights advocates have been deeply disturbed on social media. They have expressed strong sentiments about this change.
For example, while Canada cannot guarantee life with dignity e.g. by not providing adequate supports for independent living, which can in turn lead to suicidal desire, Canada can then, under the new proposed legislation, provide the person guaranteed “death with dignity” with MAiD! Even the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised the alarm that Canada’s pending MAiD policy will prematurely end vulnerable lives. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has concluded: “There is simply not enough evidence available in the mental health field … to ascertain whether a particular individual has an irremediable mental illness.” After 15 months of studying global evidence, the Council of Canadian Academies came to the same conclusion, as did the Expert Advisory Group on MAiD. Both the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have also concluded that there is no evidence to support providing MAiD solely for mental illness. Those who advocate expanding access to MAiD propose mitigating this reality with “safeguards.” This ignores the fact that irremediability is itself the primary safeguard built into the MAiD framework, and bypassing it renders all other supposed “safeguards” meaningless. The debate rages on with the Canadian Psychiatric Association releasing its position statement in 2020 that “patients with a psychiatric illness … should have available the same options regarding MAID as available to all patients.”
Many countries in the world have far more experience offering MAiD to persons with mental illness. In the Netherlands, 110 people were euthanized for psychiatric suffering between 2011 and 2014, with numbers growing fast. 66 of these cases were analyzed. Approximately 70 % were women, suffering with personality disorders, social isolation and loneliness, who had never been hospitalized or received treatment. One woman was euthanized because she complained of a life without love and, therefore, had no right to exist. In Belgium, many disturbingly young persons have been euthanized because they were suffering from depression, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder. The highest court in the Netherlands has ruled that physicians can end the lives of dementia sufferers who had chosen euthanasia before they fell ill.
This symposium will examine the arguments put forth on the question of MAiD for older persons with mental health conditions or psychosocial disability. Please join the contentious debate with renowned global experts on MAiD including a Canadian Senator involved in the legislation which will be moderated by Mr. Craig Mokhiber, an iconic international human rights expert and Director of the United Nations New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.