Advocates for Canadians with disabilities are sounding the alarm over a bill to expand medical assistance in dying, warning that it will devalue the lives of vulnerable people.
Speaking to MPs on the justice committee via Zoom from his hospital bed in London, Ont., Roger Foley pleaded with policymakers to focus on providing more assistance and home care to Canadians with disabilities. He said he has been denied proper care and was “coerced” into choosing MAID because his acute care needs were too much for hospital staff to handle.
Foley, who suffers from an incurable neurological disorder, said he was told he would have to pay $1,800 per day in hospital costs or face a forced discharge, even though he couldn’t get the necessary supports to live at home.
“Assisted dying is easier to access than safe and appropriate disability supports to live,” he said.
Foley, who is now 45 and depends on his caregivers for food and medicine, said that when hospital staff advised him that MAID was an option, he considered it to be a “threat.” He urged MPs on the committee not to “turn their backs” on vulnerable and elderly Canadians.
Foley has filed lawsuits against the provincial and federal governments for denying him access to care. Those lawsuits remain active but may be amended depending on legislation and government policy changes, his lawyer Ken Berger told CBC.
The government introduced C-7 in February in response to a September 2019 Superior Court of Quebec ruling, which found that the law’s precondition for assisted death — that the individual seeking it must face a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death — was unconstitutional. The bill proposes to remove that requirement and also disqualifies those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness.
Dec. 18 deadline for new MAID law looms
After receiving extensions due to disruptions caused by the global pandemic, the government is now working to meet a Dec. 18 deadline to pass the new legislation.
Conservative justice critic Rob Moore lamented the dramatically reduced time available for parliamentarians to consider the “life and death” issue. He suggested the government is wrongly framing the issue as an “open and shut case,” when in fact there are stark differences of opinion.
Krista Carr is executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, an organization that works on behalf of Canadians with intellectual disabilities. She said the community of Canadians with disabilities and their families have long feared that having a disability would become an acceptable reason for “state-provided suicide.”
“Bill C-7 is our worst nightmare,” she said, adding that equating assisted death to an equality right is a “moral affront.”
Carr said family members worry their loved ones will choose MAID to end their suffering because they feel they have no choice. She said that situation would relieve political leaders of their responsibility to provide adequate medical care, housing and income supports.
“The lives of people with disabilities are as necessary to the integrity of the human family as any other dimension of humanity, and this threat to the lives of people with disabilities is a threat to us all,” she said.
Advising patients of options
Julie Campbell, a nurse practitioner who assesses and assists in MAID cases, said advising patients of their options is not the same as encouraging them to take an alternative course of action.
“I believe there is a very big difference in our language between saying something is available and saying that someone then warrants, or needs, or should have, a certain procedure just because it’s available,” she said.
Justice Minister David Lametti has stressed that safeguards will continue to be in place to protect vulnerable people.
The amended legislation requires that the person requesting MAID is fully informed and has given “serious consideration to reasonable and available treatment options.”