It’s a scary time to be a disabled person in Canada.
On January 13, the Trudeau government announced it was seeking public input on the process for obtaining medical assistance in dying (MAID), after the Supreme Court of Quebec ruled in September that it was unconstitutional to only permit MAID for those with fatal conditions. Now MAID will be available to any adult who “experience[s] unbearable physical or mental suffering from illness, disease, disability or state of decline that cannot be relieved under conditions that [the patient considers] acceptable.”
I’m not a legal expert, but this seems incredibly broad. Whether someone’s decline “cannot be relieved” is often relative, arguable, and based on context.
Take, for instance, the case of Sean Tagert. According to CTV News, Tagert was a father in BC who had ALS. Last year, he ended his life using medically-assisted death, even though he wanted to stay alive for longer, because the BC health care system would not provide him with the home care he needed to make his life worth living.
His early death is the result of the chronic underfunding of our medical system.
Because ALS is fatal, Tagert was already eligible under the old criteria for MAID. But the expansion of the criteria to allow for non-palliative patients to use MAID just opens up the door for more vulnerable populations to be offered death rather than proper supports.
We already know that MAID is already being abused by doctors and medical systems that don’t respect disabled patients’ right to life and proper medical care. In 2016, a doctor in Newfoundland offered to kill a 25-year-old disabled woman in a conversation with her mother, while the woman herself was in earshot, and then called the mother “selfish” when she said she wasn’t interested.
The MAID laws require that the doctor ensure it’s always voluntary — it’s the patient’s decision, not the decision of the patient’s family – a requirement that this doctor was apparently willing to ignore, presumably because he didn’t respect the disabled woman’s right to have agency in her health care decisions.
In 2018, Roger Foley, a disabled man in Ontario, released an audio recording of medical professionals offering him medically-assisted death while denying him the care that would have allowed him to live at home. A UN rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities later condemned the Canadian government for negligence in this case.
Everything in our society is set up to make life difficult for disabled people and put us in vulnerable situations. Imagine what happens when a disabled person is failed by the education system to the point where they are unable to understand their own rights. Imagine that person goes to a doctor looking for help, but the system doesn’t have enough funding or flexibility to help them the way that they need. Imagine that the doctor doesn’t think that disabled person’s life is worth much, and offers them assisted death.
There can be no consent in a case like this. It’s coercion. It’s the discarding of disabled lives.
When disabled people are constantly dehumanized and denied access to basic things, a situation like that doesn’t seem so far out of the realm of possibility.
Expanding MAID might make sense in a world where there disabled people feel safe in life and have a reasonable expectation that their governments and communities will do everything in their power to make their lives livable. It might makes sense in a world where disabled people trust doctors to respect their wishes and value their lives.
But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where eugenics are alive and well, where disabled people mostly live in poverty, and where it’s commonly thought that disabled lives aren’t worth living. If the Trudeau government is so concerned with compassion, they should be increasing transfer payments for health care, including home care, and earmarking funds for the financial support of disabled people and accessibility needs. They should also be working with doctors and others in the medical profession to examine and deal with ableist attitudes in the health care system.
Anything less than that is a complete injustice to all disabled people.
The Department of Justice consultation is open until Monday at midnight. You can weigh in here.
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