Vulnerable groups in Canada plead: Don’t expand assisted suicide

Dutch euthanasia, assisted suicide

Debate continues to rage around Canada’s Bill C-7, which would greatly expand assisted suicide. Under this bill, euthanasia would be allowed for people whose deaths are not “reasonably foreseeable,” essentially allowing someone to choose to die because of a disability. Lawmakers are also debating whether or not to allow people to opt for assisted suicide solely due to mental illness. Yet the groups who are most vulnerable to potential abuses under this bill are urging lawmakers to vote against it.

Disability rights groups have been vocal in their opposition to C-7, rightly pointing out how it will be dangerous for Canadians with disabilities. These concerns were echoed in a National Post column by Barbara Kay, who said the ramifications would be “catastrophic.” In addition to allowing assisted suicide due to disability, Kay blasted the bill for eliminating the 10-day waiting period requirement, and reducing the number of witnesses necessary from two to just one.

Vulnerable people pressured to die

“The obvious message to the disabled is that our society puts a higher value on ‘dying with dignity’ than living with dignity, even with greatly diminished independence,” Kay argued. “Those disabled who require a great deal of costly care will be reminded far more overtly than they already are — and we know they are — that MAiD is available to them. As well, those who have just become disabled through calamitous injury will be encouraged to consider MAiD when they are most psychologically vulnerable to the temptation.”

Already, people with disabilities are being pressured to die under the Canadian system. Kay uses the case of Roger Foley as an example, a man who was denied basic health care and threatened with euthanasia if he continued to stay in the hospital. The lack of decent health care and social supports is one that Kay says will push people towards assisted suicide, even if they don’t actually want to die.

READ: Canada releases euthanasia report with troubling implications for persons with disabilities

“In 2016, Quebecer Archie Rolland, who suffered from advanced ALS and required specialized care chose MAiD when he was transferred against his will, for cost-saving reasons, to a facility with inadequately trained staff whose incompetence made his life a ‘living hell,'” Kay recounted. “In the end, Rolland said, ‘It’s not the ALS that’s killing me; it’s my fight for better care, for decent care.'”

These concerns were also echoed by Catalina Devandas Aguilar, a lawyer from Costa Rica, and the United Nation’s first Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In her report, she found multiple instances of people with disabilities being pressured into euthanasia and forced into nursing homes, while the court system refuses to reinforce their rights.

Indigenous leaders speak out

Additionally, Indigenous leaders across Canada are speaking out against C-7. In a letter sent to the government, 15 First Nations representatives, as well as Indigenous health-care workers and leaders, strongly condemned assisted suicide and insisted that Indigenous populations not be forced to participate. “Bill C-7 goes against many of our cultural values, belief systems, and sacred teachings,” the letter read. “The view that MAiD is a dignified end for the terminally ill or those living with disabilities should not be forced on our peoples.”

And it isn’t just a violation of Indigenous beliefs; the leaders also rightly pointed out that their people frequently face discrimination, including in health care, which will make them particularly vulnerable to abuse. According to the Indigenous leaders, Canadian lawmakers haven’t “taken into account the existing health disparities and social inequalities we face compared to non-Indigenous people.”

Assisted suicide is known to harm the most vulnerable people in society — the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and other minority groups. Time after time, these groups plead with lawmakers not to inflict assisted suicide on their communities, and they are ignored. Canadian politicians should heed the warnings of their constituents and turn away from this pro-death agenda.

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