Conservative MP Steven Fletcher talks with reporters in the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday October 15, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher talks with reporters in the foyer of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Wednesday October 15, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Assisted-dying bill sparks ferocious debate among Canadians with disabilities

‘Our biggest fear has always been that having a disability would become an acceptable reason for state-provided suicide’

The determination of two Quebecers with disabilities to decide when their suffering had become intolerable persuaded the federal government to rewrite the law on medical assistance in dying.

But now advocacy groups for persons with disabilities are the most fierce opponents of the legislation.

Bill C-7 attempts to strike a balance between an individual’s right to personal autonomy and self-determination and the need to protect vulnerable people who might feel pressured — either directly or indirectly by societal attitudes and a lack of support services — into seeking medical help to end their lives.

It would make it easier for people whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable to receive an assisted death. But it would impose added eligibility hurdles for those who are not near death — safeguards added specifically to help protect the vulnerable.

Those safeguards have done nothing to mollify disability advocates who believe the bill sends a message their lives are not worth living.

“Our biggest fear has always been that having a disability would become an acceptable reason for state-provided suicide,” Krista Carr, executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, told the House of Commons justice committee Tuesday.

“Bill C-7 is our worst nightmare.”

Catherine Frazee, professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies, argued that the government is making it possible for people with disabilities to kill themselves while doing whatever it can to prevent suicide for everyone else.

“Why only us?” she asked.

“Why only people whose bodies are altered or painful or in decline? Why not everyone who lives outside the margin?”

Roger Foley, a 45-year-old with a neurodegenerative disease that has left him hospitalized, unable to move or care for himself, recounted how he’s been denied home care and allegedly been pressured by hospital staff to seek an assisted death.

“My life has been devalued. I have been coerced into an assisted death by abuse, neglect, lack of care and threats,” said Foley.

He has launched a court challenge based on his right to an “assisted life.”

Carr told the committee that “every national disability organization is opposed” to Bill C-7 but their voices are “are getting drowned out by people who do not experience the systemic marginalization, the poverty and the very difficult lack of supports and life circumstances that people with disabilities experience that lead them into situations where MAID (medical assistance in dying) is either promoted to them or they feel like it’s their only option.”

But while disability rights organizations may be united in opposition to the bill, the individuals they purport to represent are not.

“They cannot possibly represent and speak for all persons with a disability. Obviously, because you know they don’t speak for me,” Sen. Chantal Petitclerc, who won multiple medals as a Paralympic athlete, said in an interview.

She is sponsoring Bill C-7 in the Senate.

Nor, she said, do they speak for Nicole Gladu or Jean Truchon, the two Montrealers who successfully challenged a provision in the assisted-dying law that restricted the procedure to those people whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

Neither Gladu, who uses a wheelchair due to post-polio syndrome, nor Truchon, who lost the use of all four limbs due to cerebral palsy, qualified for an assisted death because they weren’t near death.

Last fall, Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin struck down the foreseeable death restriction as an infringement of the guarantee of “life, liberty and security of the person” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

She gave the government six months to amend the law — since extended to Dec. 18 — and, in the meantime, granted an exemption to Gladu and Truchon to seek an assisted death immediately. Truchon did so in April.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government chose not to appeal the ruling and Bill C-7 is intended to bring the law into compliance.

Petitclerc, who sits as a member of the Independent Senators Group, opposed the original assisted-dying law in 2016 because it excluded people suffering intolerably from disabling conditions who weren’t near death. She warned at the time that there is “a fine line between protecting the vulnerable and patronizing them.”

She thinks the government has struck a better balance in C-7.

She noted that for anyone not near death, the bill would add a number of new safeguards. That includes an explicit requirement they be informed of all available means to relieve their suffering, including counselling services, mental health and disability support services, community services and palliative care, and be offered consultations with professionals who provide such services.

As well, one of the two medical practitioners who assess eligibility must have expertise in the person’s medical condition. Both must agree the person has seriously considered alternative means to relieve their suffering.

“I feel that this offers protection, safeguards, without being patronizing,” Petitclerc said.

Steven Fletcher, a former MP, federal cabinet minister and Manitoba member of the legislative assembly, said the new safeguards and talk of protecting the vulnerable are “insulting” and “condescending.”

Fletcher, who has been living with quadriplegia the age of 23 after his car hit a moose, said he believes people with disabilities should have the same right, under the same rules, as everyone else to decide when their suffering has become intolerable.

He said there is a huge range of disabling conditions and argued no one, including disability rights groups, can decide for someone else what is tolerable.

“Everyone is a minority of one,” Fletcher said in an interview.

“From that perspective, everyone should have all the rights and responsibilities … as everyone else. And when you look at it from that perspective, all those other arguments don’t make any sense anymore because we’re going to be protecting the rights of everyone, period.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

assisted dying

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Kitimat RCMP are requesting assistance locating 24-year-old Teah Wilken, who was last seen getting on a bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23). Kitimat RCMP Facebook photo.
Kitimat RCMP requesting assistance locating missing woman

Wilken last seen getting on bus at City Centre Mall in Kitimat around 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 23)

The Nisga’a Nation activated its pandemic safety protocols Nov. 20 after a positive COVID-19 case in the Terrace area was identified. (Nisga’a Lisims Government photo)
Nisga’a Nation reverts to phase one pandemic restrictions

Tightening of precautions follows discovery of positive case in Terrace

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

New COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the in-person portion of the second annual Festival of Trees event scheduled for Nov. 20 -21 in Terrace. (Pexels)
In-person event cancelled, online auction still a go for Terrace’s Festival of Trees

Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation was planning to host the event at Heritage Park

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

(Black Press Media files)
B.C. to test emergency alert system on cell phones, TVs, radios on Wednesday

The alert is part of a twice yearly test of the national Alert Ready system

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

Phillip Tallio was just 17 when he was convicted of murder in 1983 (file photo)
Miscarriage of justice before B.C. teen’s 1983 guilty plea in girl’s murder: lawyer

Tallio was 17 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 22-month-old cousin

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Most Read