A Canadian suicide prevention group is raising alarms that the country’s new assisted suicide law could especially harm indigenous peoples.
The Embrace Life Council, an anti-suicide organization based in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut, says that the proposed expansion of assisted suicide, Bill C-7, was crafted without proper input from indigenous voices and may exploit deficiencies in the territory’s mental health system.
“More research is required to determine the relationship between mental health and the current public health emergency of suicide in Nunavut,” said a letter sent to Nunvaut Senator Dennis Patterson from the Embrace Life Council, reported by the CBC.
The group said that mental illness creates a “significant impact on productivity, morbidity and mortality” in the territory.
Nunavut has a population of just over 35,000 and encompasses an area roughly the size of Mexico. The majority of the territory’s population is Inuit, a group of indigenous peoples.
The Inuit have some of the highest suicide rates in the world. According to a paper published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suicide rates among the Inuit “range from five to 25 times the Canadian average.”
Mental health treatment is widely unavailable in Nunavut, Kylie Aglukark, president of the Embrace Life Council, said to the CBC.
“We’re required already to leave the territory to access basic services,” she said. “We need more [mental health] services. We need to not have our residents being shipped to southern Canada for basic services that should be offered in Nunavut.”
Bill C-7, an expansion of Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying law, strips the requirement that a person must have a “reasonably foreseeable” death in order to be eligible for an assisted death. Under the proposed bill, a person must simply be in a position of physical or mental suffering to receive assisted suicide. The bill was passed by the Parliament on March 11.
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