Medical Assistance in Dying and the Mentally Ill – Canada’s Shame

By Marvin Ross

It is known as MAID and something that I have always supported. It became legal in Canada in 2016 with the proviso that the patient must be suffering and must have a condition that will result in his or her death. That death does not have to be imminent like in the next week or month but is foreseeable. ALS is a good example of that. In my opinion, it is humane and it is logical and, frankly, it is something I would chose to do if faced with intractable pain and suffering leading to death in the very near term. We end the suffering of our pets when they are old, in pain and terminal so why not us?

Unfortunately, the rules around MAID are being extended to remove the provision of “reasonably foreseeable and terminal”. This opens the door to people who are ill and suffering but who do not think they are getting proper treatment for their problems or for whom the treatments available are not deemed to be acceptable. They can end their lives at the government’s expense. The most damning denunciation of these policies first appeared in the London Spectator and in the Australian Spectator with the headline “why is Canada euthanizing the poor?”.

We have now reached a situation where people who have disabilities are deciding and being approved for assisted death because we do not provide them with the proper care and supports they deserve as human beings and as citizens of a wealthy first world country.

Two women in Ontario with multiple chemical sensitivities trying to live on the obscene disability payments of $1169 a month (well below the poverty line) were approved for death simply because the support we as a society give to the disabled is so inadequate that death is a viable alternative. To put that Ontario disability payment into perspective, when the Canadian government established payments for people who lost their jobs because of Covid, they paid them $2000 a month arguing that was the minimum amount people needed to exist.

David Lepofsky, disability advocate and Visiting Professor of Disability Rights at the Osgoode Hall Law School is quoted in the above article saying “We’ve now gone on to basically solving the deficiencies in our social safety net through this horrific backdoor, not that anybody meant it that way, but that’s what it’s turned into.” Devorah Kobluk, a senior policy analyst with the Income Security Advocacy Centre in Toronto, part of Legal Aid Ontario added “With the right support, I have no doubt people with disabilities can live well in society. We all want people with disabilities to know that their lives have value.”

Canadaland reported last year about a number of people who are planning to apply for MAID when their money runs out and they can no longer afford to live and pay for their care. They said:

“In Canada right now, there are people choosing medically-assisted death, not because their illnesses are killing them or the pain is unbearable, but because they can’t afford the cost of managing that pain and getting the care they need to live with dignity.”

If you have about an hour to spare, I highly recommend that you listen to this podcast with Toronto psychiatrist Dr Sonu Gaind. As the promo states:

“He’s grown alarmed since Canada stopped requiring a reasonably foreseeable death for euthanasia, as he tells Anthony in this week’s episode. People who are poor, lonely or battling mental illnesses, who’s lives might get better with help, are being offered a lethal injection instead. And children could be next. What once threatened to be euthanasia’s slippery slope, says Gaind, has turned out to be a cliff.”

We should all be disgusted with these changes but how did they come about? Well, it was either Dr Gaind or Dr Stefanie Green, president of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers, and/or Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and health justice activist discussing the issues with Dr Brain Goldman on his CBC radio show, White Coat Black Art who provided this explanation.

The disabled community in Quebec filed an appeal against the MAID legislation with the Quebec courts claiming discrimination against the disabled for not being included in the assisted death legislation brought in by the Federal Canadian government. The one judge who heard the appeal (yes, one judge only) ruled in their favour and ordered the Canadian government to revise the legislation. Normally, when something like this happens, the Justice Minister will appeal and the issue will go to the Supreme Court of Canada for review. That court is comprised of nine justices and, unlike the US, they are not politically motivated. That did not happen. The Justice Minister did not appeal.

That Justice Minister then and now is the Honourable David Lametti who I can only assume was asleep at the time and forgot to file an appeal.

Thanks to that failure, we will soon be putting to death people who should be able to live a reasonable life with the supports they need. But, one injection to prematurely end their lives is a lot cheaper.

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