Austin Mardon

February 23, 2015

We knew it could happen. Still it was a shock to hear that the Supreme Court of Canada had struck down the law banning doctor-assisted suicide.

Our society has been slowly excising God and morality from so many aspects of our public life that we knew it was only a matter of time before we replaced the will of God with the will of humans in regard to when life should end.

We are the frog in the pot of water that is slowly being heated to a boil. When the law prohibiting abortion was originally struck down, we waited to see what laws the government would pass to regulate the practice. We are still waiting.

I suspect that we will wait in vain for a law putting parameters on doctor-assisted suicide as well.

Within 10 years of first diagnosis, 10 per cent of those with schizophrenia are dead, mostly by suicide.

Within 10 years of first diagnosis, 10 per cent of those with schizophrenia are dead, mostly by suicide.

I thought we would have learned from history. Never Again is a slogan we heard repeatedly recently during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Yet, have we stopped committing genocide?

The first to die at the hands of the Nazis weren't the Jews. They were people like my wife and I, the physically handicapped and the mentally ill. I have schizophrenia. I would have been first in line for the gas.

It's so easy to look at this issue as giving someone a peaceful death who is suffering from a horrible terminal illness. We imagine it being used for someone in severe pain from cancer or in complete shutdown like that experienced by those with Huntington's Disease.

What we never visualize are those who will ask for suicide due to a loss of hope.

Christopher Reeve wanted to die immediately after his life-altering accident. He couldn't imagine continuing his life as a quadriplegic. That feeling passed, and he spent the rest of his shortened life doing good for others.

A survey was once done of people who jumped off of bridges in suicide attempts but survived. Ninety per cent of them said they regretted jumping the moment their feet left the bridge.


It is said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When Robin Williams died, people talked about how brave he was. All I felt was sadness. Mental illness is not terminal. It may not be curable yet, but it is treatable. It's our fear that makes it scarier than it needs to be.

I have spent most of my adult life campaigning against stigmatizing the mentally ill. The people most afraid are the parents of those recently diagnosed.

When a parent hears that their child has schizophrenia, all their hopes and dreams for the future go out the window. They imagine there will be no college graduation, fairy tale wedding or adorable grandchildren.

When I was rolled past the Psychiatry sign at the University of Alberta Hospital in 1992, I thought my life was over. If assisted suicide had been an option then, I cannot truthfully say that I wouldn't have asked for it.

Within 10 years of first diagnosis, 10 per cent of those with schizophrenia are dead, mostly by suicide. Forty per cent attempt it.

With doctor-assisted suicide, those numbers will go way up. Those suicide attempts will become successful with a doctor involved. Having a doctor involved will also make it more socially acceptable, and that 40 per cent will increase as well.

The Hippocratic Oath says that doctors should First, Do No Harm. They should be trained to preserve life, not to take it.

Instead of looking for ways to end suffering by ending lives, we should be looking for new treatments. Fifty per cent of people with schizophrenia do not currently have a treatment option that gives them a decent quality of life.


I'm in the lucky 50 per cent. I'm on a medication that treats my symptoms well enough to allow me to live a happy and relatively stable life.

The other 50 per cent, even with the currently available treatments, will need supports such as group homes that can be expensive. New medications that might ease their suffering are usually expensive, so there's no real incentive for the government to rush them onto the formulary.

Who will make these decisions? In the beginning it will hopefully be the patients. In some cases, it may be family members or doctors. We should understand that it is a small step from there to medical panels making these decisions.

Serious mental illnesses strike the young. Even with the decreased life expectancy and the side effects the medications can bring, the government may have to provide care for 50 years for someone like me.


Those medications can cost hundreds of dollars a month. How low does the price of oil have to go before someone realizes that a $10 suicide cocktail is the better fiscal option?

My wife lives in constant pain. Most people don't see it, but she can't hide it from me. She consistently refuses pain killers because she has seen firsthand how those narcotics can shatter lives.

She told me once that pain simply means she is still alive. She says where there is life, there is hope.

Our lives are the greatest gift that the Lord has given us. To end them one second early is a rejection of that gift. Living with schizophrenia isn't the life my family would have chosen for me, but it is the life God gave me, and I am eternally grateful for each moment.

(Austin Mardon has received the Order of Canada and been inducted into the Royal Society of Canada for his advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill.)