Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
I have been struggling with my possible response to the suicide death of Adam Maier-Clayton (27) who died by suicide, allegedly, after being told that he did not qualify for euthanasia in Canada. Clayton was asking for euthanasia based on psychological suffering.
This idea that suicide is dignified and painless is a dangerous one. Take it from someone who tried and failed.
Nearly seven years ago I overdosed on dozens of pills — causing multiple cardiac arrests and weeks in hospital on life support.
I survived, but only narrowly so.
Everything from the method to the date and time was meticulously thought out.
I picked the day because I didn’t have any other appointments scheduled — as though missing a meeting would have been the only problem with my plan any other day.
Suicidal people are irrational. This is true even when decisions appear to be made through logic and reason.
I saw suicide as the answer to pain I was convinced wouldn’t abate.
It wasn’t just about picking the easy way out of an unpleasant situation — it was the only way. I saw no way my life would improve.
Spoiler alert: it did.
Lawton then explains that his life soon changed:
Like Maier-Clayton, I had tried myriad therapies, medications, and treatment throughout my years-long battle with depression. By the time I tried to pull the plug on my own existence, none had made an impact.
But after the attempt, that changed. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but things that hadn’t worked previously showed positive results.
My circumstances didn’t change, but my outlook did.
When discussing assisted suicide, mental and physical illness can’t be lumped into one category.
Assisted suicide activists say those with mental illness are being denied the right to die with dignity just as elderly ALS patients were before the Supreme Court struck down the ban on physician-assisted death in 2015.
Exit International founder Dr. Philip Nitschke, who worked with Maier-Clayton in the lead-up to his suicide, maintains the young man was of completely sound mind to make the literal life and death decision.
“Yes he was suffering. Yes he had a mental illness. But did he have rational decision-making abilities? Absolutely,” Nitschke told me. “And I would challenge anyone to have been able to find any flaws in his thinking.”
Being a pretty good debater, I’m sure I could have sold my own suicide given how convinced I was that it was the right call. That wouldn’t have made it any less flawed a conclusion.
Despite my illness, I functioned in the world in such a way that most people didn’t even realize there was a problem. I worked, engaged and had relationships with others. I appeared normal, despite not thinking normally.
When illness is in the mind, rather than the body, it calls any decision into question — an irreversible one all the more so.
Maier-Clayton’s family experienced a powerlessness that most could never imagine, seeing such suffering in a loved one and not being able to fix it.
The role of health-care practitioners is to try — not to enable one’s disordered thinking by killing them. State-sanctioned death doesn’t help the mentally ill — it robs them of a chance for healing.
In 2010, no one could have told me happiness was possible. Today, I am married to the love of my life, working in a successful career, and able to look forward each day — all just a few years after I signed my own death warrant.
Suicide is a symptom of mental illness — not a cure for it.If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.