Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) is a medical procedure in which a person can deliberately and safely end their life. Earlier, Federal law Bill C-14 governed both who is eligible for MAiD, and the rules under which a person can receive it. On March 17th, 2021, Bill C-7 was passed by the Senate and will extend access to those who qualify for Medical Assistance in Dying. This bill represents a wider spectrum of people, including those with disabilities, a protected group under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C-7 cements that the Canadian government views a person’s disability as a reason to terminate life and essentially equates disability to suffering. The earlier eligibility criteria for MAiD was established shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously in the case of Carter vs. Canada to overturn our national prohibition on MAiD in 2015. Bill C-7 will alter the Criminal Code to permit MAiD for people whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable.
Special Procedures experts from the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council have denounced these types of laws and policies, stating that when life-ending interventions are normalized for people who are not terminally ill or when death is not reasonably foreseeable, these laws are based on discrimination and social prejudice. In this case, towards people with disabilities and/or people who are perceived to have a disability.
While many people with disabilities experience some form of physical and/or psychological pain, they are also subject to extensive discrimination. Organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented the discrimination against those with disabilities, which often results in social isolation, poverty, poor health care, and institutionalization.
“If this pandemic has taught us anything at all, it’s the debilitating effects of loneliness and financial insecurity on everyone,” says Robin Acton, President of Inclusion Canada. “Rather than choosing to commit to combatting this discrimination, our government is offering to end lives. This is, and has been, the everyday reality for many people who have a disability long before COVID-19. This suffering can be alleviated; it is not irremediable.”
This bill sends the message that life with a disability is a prospect worse than death and creates the opportunity to extend the right to MAiD to those whose only underlying medical condition is suffering due to a mental illness. The potential for abuse is clear and frightening. We are unable to assume how much autonomy a person can have if society doesn’t offer them support to live their lives as fully as possible. Especially if they are marginalized, unable to make a living, access treatment, or feel as if they are a burden to others.
Inclusion Nova Scotia (Inclusion NS) is disappointed in the government’s choice to pass Bill C-7 into law. Inclusion NS firmly believes that the government should have listened to the voices of people with disabilities,their families, and disability organizations who opposed this legislation. Our government should be offering additional support for people with disabilities so they can choose to live, rather than making dying the only option.
Patricia Neves is the Executive Director of Inclusion Nova Scotia
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