A man suffering from ‘eco-anxiety’ has applied for euthanasia in Canada.
Howard Breen, 68, who lives in Vancouver, is not terminally ill but is experiencing extreme mental suffering because of his concerns about climate change.
He told Vice: “It becomes debilitating. The depression that I’m feeling around the state of things, and my inability to not be apprehensive about the future of my children specifically, is a huge concern for me”.
An environmental activist and member of Extinction Rebellion, Breen had his initial request for euthanasia turned down in February 2021 because one doctor in his euthanasia assessment did not consider eco-anxiety to be an “acceptable, permissible malady”. In Canada, two doctors must approve an application for euthanasia or assisted suicide and only one of Breen’s doctors did.
In 2017, Breen’s doctor diagnosed him with clinical eco-anxiety and biosphere-related depression. Faced with claims that his request for euthanasia was a publicity stunt, Breen assured Vice that it was not, saying: “It’s not a stunt. It’s a very real reaction”.
Eco-anxiety is not currently recognised as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, whose diagnostic manual Canada uses.
Euthanasia for those suffering from mental illness
Euthanasia has been legal in Canada since 2016. Although initially it was reserved for those thought to be terminally ill, this requirement has since been removed.
In March 2021, the Canadian Government amended the assisted suicide and euthanasia law to remove the requirement in the statute that death be “reasonably foreseeable”. In March 2023, euthanasia on the grounds of mental illness alone will be permitted.
Breen however believes that his eco-anxiety is severe enough that he should be eligible for euthanasia now. As far as he is concerned, it is more than a mental illness. He is hoping his second application will be accepted. If not, he intends to re-apply when the law comes into force in March next year.
In 2020, 90-year-old Nancy Russell ended her life by euthanasia in Toronto, Canada so that she did not have to endure another lockdown, despite the fact that she was neither chronically nor terminally ill.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “If Mr Breen is successful in being granted euthanasia on grounds of eco-anxiety, it is hard to see how others who have similar existential concerns will not also be allowed euthanasia on such grounds. He is clearly having a crisis and it is hard to see how the Canadian euthanasia system will be able to resist his request for euthanasia given their own logic”.
“This desperately sad case shows how euthanasia legislation essentially tells people that there is no hope and agrees to their belief that the only way out of their present suffering is death. But this need not be the case”.