Howard Breen’s anxiety about the planet is so bad that he’s asked Canada to let him die. Breen isn’t afraid to die to save the planet. In fact, he may just want to—in order to save himself.
The 68-year-old eco-activist and member of the global group Extinction Rebellion has spent almost his entire life trying to warn people about the climate crisis. He’s been arrested for super-gluing himself to log booms and stopping air traffic on tarmacs. He’s even gone on hunger strikes.
Then in 2017, Breen’s doctor diagnosed him with clinical eco-anxiety and biosphere-related depression. It’s an intense fear of entropy related to the existential threat of climate change, and it’s becoming more common. Breen is so genuinely worried about global climate chaos—which has led to destructive and deadly heat waves, floods, and fires around the world—that he often experiences depression, anxious malaise, and panic attacks.
“It becomes debilitating,” said Breen, who lives in Vancouver Island. “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.”
If the world doesn’t immediately divest from fossil fuels and the climate crisis continues, Breen would rather not see what becomes of it. He wants a contingency plan. That’s why he said he’s applied for Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID)—a program that allows citizens to take their own lives, under the care of a doctor, if they can’t cope anymore. The law was first adopted in 2016 for Canadians afflicted by grievous or incurable medical conditions but was eventually amended to include those determined to have a low enough quality of life. And next March, the program will be expanded even further to include people living with mental illness.
Breen feels he should be eligible. The first time he applied, in February 2021, he was denied. But he hasn’t given up. Later that same year, he started his fight again with the hopes that the Canadian government will recognize both his application and eco-anxiety, in general, as legitimate.
“If you’re on the front lines, you may find yourself at the far end of the spectrum and having a lot of suicidal thoughts,” Breen said. “For me, I envision just laughing at the Grim Reaper as I stand on my head for the last moment of my life.”
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