(Author’s Acknowledgement )
On Wednesday, May 24, I arrived in Ottawa, Ontario to attend the Health Law Summit hosted by the Canadian Bar Association’s Health Law Section. I was invited to this Summit to receive the Law Student Essay Contest Award for a paper I wrote and submitted last year entitled Nothing About Us Without Us.
The Summit took place at the historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier in the Adam Ballroom and was co-chaired by Valerie Wise (Wise Health Law, Oakville, Ontario) and Catherine Gaulton (Healthcare Insurance Reciprocal of Canada, Toronto, Ontario).
The Summit featured a total of six expert panels on topics that ranged from concerns surrounding a health care professional’s fitness to practice to practical implications for the expansion of virtual health care.
On day two, Retired Chief Justice George R. Strathy provided an important key note address on a difficult topic: the mental health crisis in the legal profession. Retired Justice Strathy reminded attendees that mental illness in the legal profession is higher than that in most other professions and that lawyers are less likely to seek help. Why? Because it’s become part of our culture. Lawyers are working harder than ever and the development of technology has made it easier for a lawyer to work a seven-day week. Retired Justice Strathy offered four recommendations to help address the ongoing crisis:
- Talk about it – have open and candid discussions with friends, family, and colleagues;
- Reduce some of the stressors that cause anxiety and depression – make a work/life balance a real priority;
- Strengthen mentoring and support systems – all lawyers should have a senior and confidential mentor; and
- Provide every member of every firm with access to mental health supports – these do exist, but people are not utilizing them.
Canada’s Expanding Medical Assistance in Dying Framework
One of the expert panels featured a discussion on Canada’s expanding MAID framework. The panel was led by Professor Trudo Lemmens (Scholl Chair in Health Law and Policy, University of Toronto), and, Dr. Karandeep Sonu Gaind (Sunnybrook Hospital, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto).
Professor Lemmens, discussed how the recently removed reasonably foreseeable natural death (“RFND”) eligibility criteria was actually a helpful safeguard. He commented that Canada’s MAID framework is unique due to its over-emphasis on access. Professor Lemmens confirmed that Canada is now the absolute world leader in the provision of Medical Assistance in Dying, commenting that in 2021, 10,064 Canadians utilized the framework to end their lives with medical assistance – a significant increase from the 1,016 MAID deaths in 2016.
Echoing the comments of his colleague before him, Dr. Gaind focused on a major shift in how we discuss Canada’s framework. As the framework expanded, the terminology has changed from ‘safeguards’ to ‘barriers.’ Dr. Gaind, pointed out that across the globe, the most common reason for a MAID application is depression. To this, he shared that we know people suffering from depression think differently and operate under a known cognitive triad centering around feelings of despair and hopelessness for the future. Dr. Gaind shared this comment, “we lose our resilience and we break,” and this has biological, functional, and medical correlatives. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Gaind held that there are no standards for predicting the irremediability of mental illness. He concluded by raising many concerns around what he believes has become suicide facilitation in a process that has been taken over by ideology.
Law Student Essay Award
The CBA and its sponsor, Carbert Waite LLP (Calgary, Alberta) provided me with the award for the top law school essay on a health law topic. My paper discussed the influence of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities before briefly addressing the expansion of Canada’s MAID framework.
In delivering my thank you speech, I discussed the influence of my father Phil, on my writing and advocacy for vulnerable persons and marginalized groups. Unfortunately, Phil passed away on April 30 after a brief but courageous battle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Fighting back the tears, I shared how proud my father was and how he inspired me by always standing up in the face of injustice. I was definitely humbled and touched after receiving a standing ovation from the attendees which included not only lawyers practicing in Health Law but even several law students from my alma mater Thomson Rivers University Law School in Kamloops, B.C. I pictured dad in the audience, clapping louder than anyone else and telling everyone around him, “that’s my son.”
 The author would like to dedicate this article to his father, Philip Donovan Book (July 27, 1953 – April 30, 2023).
 Brett Ryan Book, “Nothing About Us Without Us” August 24, 2022, Canadian Bar Association, accessed online: https://www.cba.org/Sections/Health-Law/Resources/Resources/2022/HealthEssayWinner2022.