After son's suicide, father pushes for assisted dying for mentally ill

Adam Maier-Clayton of Windsor, Ont. fought for years to raise awareness about what he saw as a need for assisted dying for anyone with the severe health issues like his.

27-year-old Maier-Clayton took his own life after a long struggle with OCD, anxiety, depression

Graham Clayton hopes his son's suicide will lead to changes in Canada's assisted dying laws. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

After his 27-year-old son's suicide, Graham Clayton has vowed to push for changes to the country's doctor-assisted dying laws in order to prevent other Canadians from having to take their own lives.

Adam Maier-Clayton of Windsor, Ont. fought for years to raise awareness about what he saw as a need for assisted dying for anyone with the severe health issues like his. 

Battling mood disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder since he was a child — conditions he said caused pain that felt like "being burned with acid" — Maier-Clayton pushed to have mental illness included in assisted dying laws.

He was unsuccessful. He died by suicide April 13 after leaving his home to go to a hotel room. 

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

Since his death, Maier-Clayton's message has been amplified with people who support his cause, according to his father, who has vowed to continue his son's battle.

"I'm going to reach out to a lot of his friends. I'm going to work with the media," Clayton said. "I'm going to try and mobilize other people to get active in this. There's too many people sitting on their hands." 

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.

'It wasn't all for nothing'

As Clayton prepares for his son's funeral Saturday, he said he's already receiving dozens of messages from people across the country and around the world, showing support to change the laws that are not even a year old yet.

Feeling distressed, depressed or suicidal? Help is available. 
1) Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare operates a 24-hour crisis line: (519) 973-4435. For more information on the warning signs of suicide, visit their website.
2) The Distress Centre of Windsor and Essex County is open from noon to midnight 365 days a year and provides emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Contact them at 519-256-5000.

​"He would have been pleased it wasn't all for nothing," Clayton said. 

The government told CBC News it has no plans to review the eligibility criterion for assisted-dying laws.

"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," according to the statement.

Late last year, as part of the assisted dying legislation enacted June 20, the government started work on an independent review to look at issues like mental illness. These reviews will be conducted by the Council of Canadian Academies with final reports expected to be made public by December, 2018.

Fighting for his son's cause

5 years ago
Duration 1:01
Graham Clayton hopes his son's suicide will bring changes to Canada's assisted dying laws.

Clayton did not know about his son's suicide until police informed him the next afternoon, saying his son did not want him implicated in his death. He wants to change the laws so people can die with their loved ones around them. 

"My son took off in the middle of the night. He told me, 'If and when I do this — it's bad enough it's destroyed my life — I'm not gonna let it destroy your life,'" Clayton recalled, saying he doesn't want people to go through the same experience.

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. 

She is conflicted when it comes to Maier-Clayton. She understood his suffering, but without an impending threat of a natural death, she would have difficulty assisting, even if she was allowed.

"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."