When medically assisted death became legal in Canada, I was happy. Not because I needed it, but because if ever I did, I would be grateful for the option. No one should have to suffer any longer than necessary when there’s no hope for recovery. Quite a lot of people made this very simple, logical concept much more difficult than it needed to be, but we got there, and that was good. But this? This is not how any of this is supposed to work. Not in Canada. Not in any wealthy society. Not anywhere in the world, ideally.
Governments, especially these days, love talking up how we’re all in this together and how much we care for each other. That’s perhaps not an outright lie, but it’s also pretty damn hard to say it’s true. If it were, a person with a disability forced either permanently or temporarily to turn to government benefits wouldn’t have to live an entire life on less money than we pay to rent our apartment every month. That’s bullshit, and there is not one good reason why things have to be that way. As I’ve said many times, we have the money to take care of everyone. What we don’t have is the will. Yes, people’s complex medical needs are expensive. But that doesn’t make telling those people to quite literally go kill themselves an acceptable alternative.
According to the legislators who put Canada’s original MAID laws in place, the option to die was originally intended for those at the end stages of a terminal illness, to help alleviate suffering. Deaths had to be “reasonably foreseeable.”
But last year, a change was proposed, after two people with severe disabilities, but not near the ends of their lives, won a case at Quebec’s Superior Court granting them the right to die on their own terms.
That led to the federal government’s Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), to allow Canadians to receive MAID even if their deaths aren’t foreseeable.
“This legislation,” Justice Minister David Lametti said last fall, “will prioritize the individual autonomy of Canadians who are suffering to choose a peaceful death if they determine that their situation is no longer tolerable to them, regardless of proximity to death.”
After much debate, the bill became law this past March, with some key safeguards — notably that there should be a minimum 90-day waiting period following the first assessment of a MAID request.
But for many people, tolerance of their conditions involves care that costs money, such as expensive treatments, assistive devices, or access to home care. The bill did not take into consideration the people who would choose death not because their conditions couldn’t be managed through treatments, therapies, or support — but because they can’t afford those supports. In practice, the law now offers these people death as a viable solution to pain and suffering.