Self-advocates are expressing disgust over recent changes to federal Medical Assistance in Dying legislation.
In short, they say last month’s expansion of Bill C-7 to include people with non-terminal conditions is a violation of human rights – one that leaves them “sad, scared and angry.”
In a statement distributed Tuesday (April 13), Self-Advocate Leadership Network (SALN) officials – representing a network of self-advocates from seven Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island organizations – say the move “has further devalued people with disabilities and many other groups of Canadian citizens,” and puts many people with disabilities at risk.
The legislation revision, the statement continues – citing United Nations human-rights experts – is based on ableist assumptions about the quality and worth of the life of a person with a disability.
Canada first legalized assisted dying in June 2016 (it came into force in Quebec in December 2015). In September 2019, the Superior Court of Quebec ruled that parts of the laws on MAID were unconstitutional, namely, the requirement that a patient’s natural death must be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to qualify for the service. Government was given six months to amend it.
Online consultation followed, including regarding whether new hurdles should be imposed to prevent abuse and protect vulnerable people from being pressured into ending their lives. The government’s survey also asked whether the law should be expanded to include allowing people who fear losing mental competence to make advance requests for an assisted death.
The latter aspect prompted one SALN member to describe the new bill as “frightening.”
“If someone is not well (mental health) and feeling they are ready to die – they are vulnerable – this is dangerous.”
The revised bill does include higher hurdles for those not near death, including a minimum 90-day period for assessments of their requests for an assisted death. They will also have to be able to give final consent immediately before receiving the procedure. As well, people suffering solely from grievous and irremediable mental illnesses will have to wait two years to gain the right to seek medical assistance in dying.
Nolda Ware, SALN supporter and manager of family support services and person-centred practices for UNITI – a partnership of three organizations, including Semiahmoo House Society, that advocates for and supports people with disabilities and their families – expressed concern around influence and coercion, and said the system has no right to make judgment on a person’s quality of life.
And while an Ipsos survey conducted for Dying With Dignity Canada in January 2020 suggested overwhelming support among Canadians for expanding access to medically assisted dying, SALN chair Michael McLellan described the revision, given royal assent on March 17, as “a huge step backwards.”
“It clearly tells us how they do not value people with disabilities/mental illness,” he said.
Government committed to setting up an expert panel to advise on safeguards and protocols that should apply to people with mental illnesses, and rejected a Senate amendment to allow people who fear losing mental competence to make advance requests for an assisted death. The latter issue and other unresolved matters are to be reviewed by a joint parliamentary committee.
SALN’s newsletters are distributed across the province, including to federal representatives. The network, formed in 2019, aims to “promote a good life through positive and informed: actions, networking, and advocacy.”
– with files from Canadian Press
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