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Catherine Frazee: ‘Bill C-7 begs the question, why us? Why only us?’

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Bill C-7 expands Medical Assistance in Dying beyond those who are actually dying, but it only does so for persons with a disabling medical condition.

In November of last year noted scholar Catherine Frazee, a retired Ryerson disability studies professor, activist, poet and writer who now lives in the Annapolis Valley, addressed the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice & Human Rights on Bill C-7 legislation via video.

“What is it about disability that makes this okay,” Frazee asked. “Why such breathless confidence that Bill C-7 will bring no harm to disability communities?” 

See also: Ableism and austerity behind Nova Scotia’s shortage of community living options, human rights inquiry told

The Prime Minister and his Liberal caucus, supported by the Bloc Québecois, intend to fast-track passage of Bill C-7 on Wednesday, halting any further debate.

At this time much of the opposition to Bill C-7 is centered around the Disability Filibuster website, livestreaming a near continuous line up of people opposed to the legislation. I tune in whenever I have a few minutes, and have learned a lot about the Bill and its linkages with ableism and neoliberal austerity in the last few days as a result. My deep regret is that it took me so long to wake up to what is happening.   

Watch the video, or read Catherine Frazee’s transcribed comments here.

I speak today from Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. I am a settler here bound by Treaties of Peace and Friendship. and mindful that we are all of us Treaty People. 

Madam Chair, I am sorry for any discomfort that my words may trigger but with so little time I must speak frankly and without reserve. 

Bill C-7 begs the question, why us? Why only us? Why only people whose bodies are altered or painful or in decline? Why not everyone who lives outside the margins of a decent life, everyone who resorts to an overdose, a high bridge, a shotgun carried out into the woods? Why not everyone who decides that their quality of life is in the ditch? 

Surely the answer rises up in all of our throats. That’s not who we are. We dial 911, we pull you back from the ledge, and yes, we restrain you in your moment of crisis.  Autonomy be damned. We will get to the heart of the problem that drove you out into the woods and we will beckon you back toward a life that is bearable. Unless you’re suffering is medical or disability related, then and only then there will be a special pathway to assisted death.

Universality is the bedrock of our health care commitments. Why then does Bill C-7 depart so radically, dropping the threshold for MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) for one group known to bear the trauma of suicide at catastrophic rates, but not for others who suffer and die before their time. What is it about disability that makes this okay? Why such breathless confidence that Bill C-7 will bring no harm to disability communities? 

Honestly, I do not know, but as we marshal our evidence for the legal challenges that will follow if this bill is passed, this is what we hear in reply.

Some say that the suffering of a disabling medical condition is unlike other suffering, somehow more cruel than the overwhelming pain of any healthy, non-disabled person  who turns to premature death by means of suicide. There is no evidence to support this. 

Some say that the suffering of disability defies all hope, as it did, they claim, for Jean Truchon. But the deprivations of institutional life that choked out his will to live  were not an inevitable consequence of disability. Did we learn nothing from Archie Rolland’s harrowing struggle, and his final cri de coeur,  before his assisted death? “It’s not the ALS that’s killing me,” he said. 

Some say that the suffering of disabling conditions falls in the domain of medicine, but the agonizing quest of Sean Tagert teaches us otherwise. Let’s not forget he called the bureaucratic denials of needed care “a death sentence” just days before his assisted death.

Some will fall back on the mantra of choice. They say that not everyone wants to live that way. But not everyone wants to live with the indignities of poverty either. No one wants to live under threat of racial or gendered or colonial violence. No one wants to live hungry, incarcerated, abject, or alone.

Madam Chair, will our lawmakers carve out other shortcuts to assisted death for those who do live in such conditions, or will you rise to the defence of human rights? If the latter I respectfully urge that you start with us, for our equality is right now on the line. Thank you

See also: Who speaks for us? Bill C-7 and class privilege

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