Windsor

Adam Maier-Clayton's assisted-dying advocacy work will continue after his death

The 27-year-old told CBC News in October that he has battled anxiety, mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder since he was a child — conditions he said caused pain that felt like "being burned with acid." He recently took his own life.

'Legislation designed with safeguards to protect the inherent and equal value of every life'

Adam Maier-Clayton wanted the government to legalize doctor-assisted dying for the mentally ill. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Adam Maier-Clayton is continuing to be a voice for doctor-assisted dying for people with mental health struggles even in death, according to advocates.

The 27-year-old told CBC News in October he has battled anxiety, mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder since he was a child — conditions he said caused pain that felt like "being burned with acid."

The Windsor man took his own life last week, leading his mother to write on Facebook she was "devastated."

We're at a point where we really need to start engaging in the conversation of mental illness and medical assistance in dying in a very meaningful way,-Dying with Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool

Before his death, Maier-Clayton spoke to several specialists and advocates of doctor-assisted dying, including Dr. Ellen Wiebe, professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia. 

"When he asked me whether I could assist him, I said — first of all — he didn't qualify under our law because his natural death wasn't in the foreseeable future," she told CBC News. "Also, I would really have difficulty assisting someone so young with a non-terminal illness."

Maier-Clayton also repeatedly spoke with Philip Nitschke, founder of the end-of-life advocacy group Exit International.

"He had a lot of questions," Nitschke said. "He always made it clear that given he didn't see any way that Canadian law would recognize his needs he would probably take the step himself, that is to exercise the option of ending his own life."

Legislation does not apply to mental illness

Canada's assisted-dying legislation does not apply to patients with mental illness. The legislation "allows for safe and consistent access to medical assistance in dying for mentally competent adults who are suffering unbearably, are in an advanced state of irreversible decline, and whose natural deaths have become reasonably foreseeable," said Health Canada in a statement.

"The Government has no plans to review this eligibility criterion," continued the statement. "The legislation was carefully designed with safeguards to affirm and protect the inherent and equal value of every person's life, and to avoid encouraging negative perceptions of the quality of life of persons who are elderly, ill or disabled."

The legislation required independent reviews of three "complex and sensitive issues" including requests where "mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition." These reviews will be conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies with final reports expected to be made public by December, 2018.

Nitschke said most of the people he works with are in their 70s, making Maier-Clayton unusual.

"The fact that his family supported him gave a lot of weight to the story he was telling me, which was of the fairly miserable life he was leading," Nitschke added.

The Exit founder said he spoke with Maier-Clayton in the days leading up to his death and that he seemed rational, calm and measured.

Dying with Dignity CEO Shanaaz Gokool said Maier-Clayton's relative youth made many people "uncomfortable," but also served to prompt some difficult conversations.

"Adam asked a lot of really difficult questions in the past year, and I think now with his suicide, we're at a point where we really need to start engaging in the conversation of mental illness and medical assistance in dying in a very meaningful way," she told CBC's As It Happens.

Adam Maier-Clayton discusses his mental health issues

CBC News Windsor

5 years ago
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Adam Maier-Clayton discusses his mental health issues 0:42

Maier-Clayton shared his struggle through social media, videos and in interviews with media, an effort Gokool said helped "push the envelope."

"You feel some relief that his suffering is over," she said. "I think it's up to the rest of us now to ask ourselves: Do we want to arbitrarily discriminate against people who have mental illness?"

'He wanted his death to mean something'

Nitschke said he had invited Maier-Clayton to participate in a Toronto conference about assisted death in October, but the young man would only promise to attend if he was "still here." Now, a special tribute will be held during the time when he was scheduled to speak.

In life, Nitschke said Maier-Clayton did a "great deal of good" and drew attention to "rational suicide." Now that he's gone, that legacy continues.

"What Adam did is draw attention to the fact that the legislation in Canada … is not helpful to people who have chronic psychiatric illnesses that can lead to a tremendous amount of suffering, but in no way can be seen as terminal illnesses," said Nitschke. "He made it clear to me that he wasn't just interested in a peaceful death, he wanted his death to mean something," 

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