A recent article in the Toronto Star acknowledged the death of Michael Fraser, a man who had experienced a lifetime of abuse, pain, and disability, and was struggling with poverty when he died by assisted suicide. Rather than exploring it as a systemic failure, however, the Star presented it as a way for him to escape a lifetime of pain.
Fraser’s father abandoned his family when Fraser was three, leaving him with a woman who was not his biological mother. Her apathy towards him led to a childhood filled with sexual abuse at the hands of the man she married when Fraser was six. His mother knew, but did nothing about it. “He got drunk in the middle of the night and would drag me out of bed and do things to me. My brothers knew what was going on, but they turned their faces to the wall,” he said.
He was also neglected, at times resorting to eating cat food to survive. His first suicide attempt was at age 10. The constant abuse was something he struggled with for the rest of his life.
“I’ll wake up at night and the smell is so strong in my nostrils, the sweat and the alcohol and tobacco of the other men,” he said. “The system failed me as a kid. It didn’t really take care of me.”
His wife, Ann, affirmed that he was still affected by his horrific childhood. “He starts shaking,” she said. “He jumps. I just know he’s getting hit by something. I put my hand on his shoulder and say, ‘I’m here. It’s a dream. It’s a nightmare. I got you.’ [It happens] all the time.”
At the time of his death, Fraser could no longer walk on his own, and hadn’t left his apartment in over a month. “Why should I continue on?” he asked. “My body is falling apart. I don’t want to spend the next five or six years living like this… I’d rather die in my own bed than just die neglected, alone in a long-term care facility.”
Fraser had liver disease, incontinence, and was unable to walk, which qualified him for Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD). He was killed by his physician, Dr. Navindra Persaud, who struggled with the decision.
“Professional standards were met, it’s legal, but I do feel guilty. I’m conflicted about it,” Persaud said. “Someone you know and care about is dead. As a doctor, there is doubt. Could I have done something differently to reduce the suffering? When I encounter a patient who has a very sad story like Michael’s, I have a higher responsibility to do whatever is possible to help. For sure, it makes today harder to inject those lethal medications when you know everything he’s been through… It just seems so unfair.”
Fraser had spent most of his life on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), through which he received $1,100 a month. By the end of his life, when he could no longer walk, his apartment — which cost $974 in monthly rent — had become more like a prison. The second-floor apartment had no elevator, making it impossible for him to leave. And there was no money to find a more accessible home.
“There were a number of factors that led to Michael’s decision and I think poverty was one of them. It’s hard to disentangle them all,” Persaud admitted. “Sometimes poverty is pushing people to MAiD who can be helped by other supports. For sure, I think the fact that he had trouble paying his rent made it harder for him to be in this world.”
After having a final beer and smoking one last cigarette, Fraser died in his bedroom at Persaud’s hands.
What Fraser needed was better support, the ability to live in a home which met his needs, and for his trauma to be addressed and treated. Yet instead, like so many other Canadians struggling with poverty, disability, and mental illness, it was simply easier to kill him. And rather than portray this as a tragic failing of a human being who deserved better, the Toronto Star glamorized it as a compassionate ending to a terrible life.