Austin Mardon
May 16, 2016

We lost another friend this week. I first met him in 1994. I suppose when you get over 50 those things start happening, especially for your friends.

I have schizophrenia. Lots of our friends have serious mental illnesses. Unfortunately, that also means they have a shorter life expectancy, as much as 25 years less than the general population.

Some of this is because of the medication. Some of this is because of the higher rate of smoking among the mentally ill.

Mostly, it is due to the high rate of suicide. Forty per cent of all people diagnosed with schizophrenia attempt suicide. Ten per cent are successful.

We have had lots of discussions lately about the new physician-assisted suicide legislation. Everyone has a certain type of person in mind when they think about it: those suffering from a painful cancer, those with a horrible illness like Huntington's or someone with advanced dementia.


In jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, almost half of those using the programs suffer from depression. That's a treatable illness, not a terminal one.

Those are the statistics for the actual use of euthanasia. They don't tell the whole story though. When we begin to tell ourselves that some forms of human life aren't worth continuation, that can seep through our entire society.

By making assisted suicide legal, other aspects of our health system have already been affected. Doctors in emergency rooms who are asked to treat someone who has attempted suicide must decide if they are allowed to save their lives.

In some places, the doctors are opting to not treat for fear of lawsuits for interfering with a person's right to commit suicide.

Our friend had been talking about wanting to take his life in his group therapy for weeks. In years past, that would have meant a hospitalization.

Not now. It's not against the law to commit suicide, so talking about doing it is also no longer a reason for automatic hospitalization. When he disappeared, we all knew what it meant. It became a waiting game. The wait ended a few days ago when his body was discovered.

I never believed that this wonderful country would become a place where we no longer cared about the disenfranchised. As our archbishop has been explaining, Every Life Matters.

My life matters. Our friend's life mattered. I've heard it said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

A researcher once interviewed people who had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. More than 90 per cent of them said they regretted jumping the minute their feet left the bridge.


Will we shortly see a time where the police won't try to talk someone off a ledge or bridge railing? Those who campaigned in the anti-abortion trenches saw this coming. Pro-life doesn't just mean fighting against abortions. It means fighting for life from conception to a natural death.

An inmate in Belgium serving a life sentence was approved for euthanasia. Spending the rest of his life incarcerated was so torturous to him that it was approved. That's in a country that hasn't carried out the death penalty in more than 60 years.


My wife helped get people off death row in the United States. Not innocent people, but the guilty ones. There are lots of people willing to help the innocent.

If you are truly against the death penalty, you have to be against it for even the most horrible serial killer. St. John Paul II inspired Catherine to take up the cause. He understood that every life matters. He also showed us this by his heroic enduring of his own death.

We have opened Pandora's Box as a society. Our friend was one of the first victims. He won't be the last.

Life is the greatest gift that our Lord has given us. It's not something that can be exchanged like an unwanted birthday present. It's precious and worth fighting for.

(Austin Mardon is an adjunct professor in the department of psychiatry and in the John Dossitor Health Ethics Centre, both at the University of Alberta. He can be reached at