The media has been reporting on people with disabilities who are requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide because they don’t have the supports they need to live. It may be a lack of housing, access to treatment or other supports, or an inability to pay for necessities like groceries or medical prescriptions.
Earlier this year, Sophia, a woman with multiple chemical sensitivities who was unable to find suitable housing, died by MAiD after an unsuccessful two year search for housing and support.
Denise, another woman with multiple chemical sensitivities who was unable to find affordable housing, also applied for MAiD, saying, "I've applied for MAiD essentially...because of abject poverty." After an outpouring of support, she has been able to move into appropriate temporary housing.
A B.C. woman with chronic illness, Kat, is finding it easier to access “death care” than health care. A request for MAiD was granted, although she was hoping to have access to palliative care and other supports. She says, “… it is far easier to let go than keep fighting.”
Many witnesses have shared these concerns with the special committee of MPs and Senators studying medical assistance in dying (MAiD), like Sarah Jama, Executive Director of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario,
I have named the names of people who died, not because they wanted to end their lives, but because they had no other options for food, shelter and housing.
Ms. Jama also talked about the impact of gaps and delays in health care,
Why does it take up to two years to access a pain clinic in Ontario? Why are there so many wait-lists? You’re making it impossible for us to choose to live, especially those of us who are aging into our disability. It’s getting harder and harder, not because we can’t do it ourselves, but because there are no resources available and not enough funding in our healthcare systems and we can’t simply afford it. … If you’re going to allow people to kill themselves, look into why they are doing that, and look into our healthcare systems.
Michelle Hewitt of Disability without Poverty also talked to the special committee about people with disabilities who chose MAiD because they were suffering from poverty and social conditions, not medical conditions.
Bill Adair, Executive Director of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, gave the MPs and Senators on the committee a plainly worded summary of what’s happening,
Many people with a disability suffer because of a lack of available services and being left to live in crushing poverty, not because of their disability. In turn, the lack of available services and a life in poverty kills hope and drives people to choose MAiD to end their misery. This is not the Canada that any of us want.
These witnesses make it clear that people with disabilities are requesting to die via MAiD because they don’t have the resources they need to live. This is gravely concerning. While it is not poverty or lack of support that makes a person eligible for MAiD – to be eligible a person must have a serious and incurable illness or disability – it is deeply troubling that individuals are choosing MAiD because of a lack of support or resources.
It can be complicated or difficult to identify what is causing a person’s suffering and what is motivating their request to end their life. In a recent interview on CBC’s White Coat, Black Art, palliative care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani talked about the social determinants of health and how different causes of suffering present together:
When I care for people who have serious illnesses and homelessness and poverty and trauma, I mean, it’s very difficult for people to say, “Well, today, I’m suffering because of my illness,” and then the next day, “Today, I’m suffering because of a lack of housing.” Often these things present together.
In a Disability Filibuster webinar on May 6, 2022, hosted by members of the disability community, participants also pointed to the lack of health care support. Webinar co-host Luna Aixin pointed out, “The waiting period for MAiD is 90 days. How is 90 days going to help me when there are no structures or supports?”
At the committee hearing, Sara Jama described the situation facing people with disabilities as systemic coercion because “the systems are working together to provide no other options for people to choose life….”
In response to an MP’s question about whether there has been a change in thinking in the disability community over the last number of years, Ms. Hewitt answered,
…anecdotally, people within the disability community are talking about MAID more often and seeing it as a response to societal conditions more than medical conditions. They feel that they're suffering and that there is a solution to it. They're not getting that solution; so, therefore, it's MAiD.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train,” shared Heather Walkus, in the June 8, 2022, Disability Filibuster webinar.
In its brief, the EFC urged the committee to recommend the government pause MAiD for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable until it can properly assess what is happening and ensure people’s lives aren’t being ended due to a lack of financial or medical support.
It should be unthinkable that any patient would request MAiD because they are unable to access the supports and care required to live. However, there are increasing media reports that people are requesting MAiD due to food and housing insecurity or inability to access medical care.
It should not be easier to obtain MAiD than it is to obtain good quality palliative care, mental health care or other needed medical or social supports.
MAiD must not serve as Canada’s response to poverty or lack of essential supports.
Asked how to support patients who are looking for MAiD because of years-long waiting lists and unmet needs, Aasiya Hussain shared with the April 29, 2022, Disability Filibuster webinar how advocacy had saved her life. Her loved ones and even strangers advocated to help her get access to essential treatment. Ms. Hussain talked about how everyone in the community needs to engage, “We have to commit to leaving no one behind.”
The EFC believes that each person’s life is precious, and has equal worth and dignity. That every person is created by God and loved by him. And that we are called by God to love and care for our neighbour.
As we consider how to engage in a way that leaves no one behind, we can ask ourselves: how do I love my neighbour who is living with disability? How do I love my neighbour who needs housing, resources, support? What does generosity of care for one another and connection with one another look like?
Following God’s calling, let’s reach out and offer practical help in the context of relationships. Let’s advocate for laws that promote the well-being of our neighbour and our country.
For more information on the special parliamentary committee’s study of assisted dying, see www.TheEFC.ca/MAIDreview.