Expanding medically assisted death is a failure to care for disabled Canadians
Sarah Rose // Features Editor
Valeriya Kim // Illustrator
In November, the Canadian government rushed through Bill C-7, an amendment of the criminal code to extend the scope of legally assisted death. This has peeled back the curtains on the systemic ableism in our country that COVID-19 has only worsened.
Now Canada faces a public reckoning over our failure to care for the most vulnerable Canadians, and it is past time our country addressed this insidious epidemic.
Only months after Bill C-7 passed a first reading, reports began emerging from disabled people who felt compelled to apply for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) due to a lack of support. They are just some of the many institutionalized and incarcerated in our abusive and racist prison system, or simply denied any disability support to keep a roof over their head. If disabled people have no hope of surviving, of living, how can choosing death be autonomous when they aren’t given a meaningful choice?
Pushing MAID before introducing universal pharmacare or other desperately needed support is a slap in the face to disabled people—as was CERB.
Earlier in the pandemic, disabled people were not allowed to bring carers to the hospital. Many protocols list pre-existing conditions as an exclusion for critical care, meaning those with varying disabilities would not get a ventilator or ICU care. The assumption that disabled people automatically have a lower quality of life is, as Dr. Heidi Janz (adjunct professor at the University of Alberta) remarked in an interview with the Edmonton Journal, “terrifying.”
This is the ideological battleground from which Bill C-7 arises within the time-honoured eugenicist idea that it’s somehow more “humanitarian” to let vulnerable groups die instead of helping them live. “If people can’t receive enough support to live a decent quality of life, you can now ‘choose’ to die. Imagine doing that with any other minority,” said Dr. Janz. “Until people have a choice in how and where they live, it can never be a free choice on how they die.”
Canada is often lauded for its single-payer healthcare system, where patients are promised quality care without prohibitive cost. Outside of some of the longest reported waiting times globally, ongoing care is almost non-existent and difficult to access for those with complex and chronic illnesses. Pushing MAID before introducing universal pharmacare or other desperately needed support is a slap in the face to disabled people—as was CERB.
The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) rolled out inMarch with almost double the maximum single person disability coverage of $1,183.42 in BC. Qualifying for assistance is a lengthy, expensive, ableist nightmare. Diagnosis alone is a privilege. The wait is anywhere from one to five years to be approved for disability benefits, often while drastically ill, and CERB only took a matter of days to disperse. CERB applicants didn’t have to liquidate their assets to be considered destitute enough to qualify. They weren’t denied multiple times and forced into court to beg for food and shelter, provided they’re lucky enough to get legal aid at all.
Instead of meeting the needs of disabled people in untenable economic, health or living situations, the Canadian government has made it clear they would prefer for us to die.
With CERB, the government admitted it’s not feasible for working, abled Canadians to survive on less than $2,000 a month, yet demand disabled people live below the poverty line. Ensuring Canadians have easier access to MAID than disability assistance is only further proof that the government has never cared about investing in assistance for disabled people to stay alive.
In my second year of university, I developed disabling health issues and ended up in some upscale Yaletown office of a psychologist. We went over a lifetime of trauma and undiagnosed illness, which I’d talked about so many times in my life that it’s more like reading offa grocery list. “About 85 per cent of chronic illnesses are unknown,” she said in a reassuring tone. I only felt more hopeless and enraged at the notion. So many of us are fighting for our right to care—to survive. She suggested I was experiencing complex post-traumatic stress symptoms and handed me a print-out to read.
When you spend most of your life hypervigilant because of “helpful” professionals who only perpetuate the same trauma and abuse you’ve endured, it’s hard to believe in any other way of being. PTSD is for veterans, I’d been told. Those who’ve sacrificed themselves to imperialism and come out scarred by the horrors of war. I probably threw out the print-out as soon as I left the office. It’s not like I could pay for another visit.
Twelve to twenty-five per cent of those who survive a life-threatening medical event will develop PTSD; so will 30 per cent of sexual violence survivors—a rate 10 per cent higher than military veterans—and approximately 20 per cent of chronic illness patients. Illness-induced PTSD is real, but like so many of the very illnesses that cause it, it’s not well recognized.
According to reports from the Office for National Statistics, one in five COVID-19 cases are still symptomatic at five weeks, and one in ten at twelve weeks. These reports are coming after months of outcry from those experiencing post-COVID disability. I can’t help but fear for the lives this pandemic and Bill C-7 will claim. Instead of meeting the needs of disabled people in untenable economic, health or living situations, the Canadian government has made it clear they would prefer for us to die.
Disability is not a synonym for suffering, although it becomes that way when we are denied support for our basic needs. Frequently left out of the conversation is how disability can also come with a sense of joy and pride in our identities, and that doesn’t deserve to be punished or erased. We are different, not less.
A magician once told me that an aspect of some illusions is to explain the trick because even when the audience knows the truth, it doesn’t stop us from being subjected to misdirection. We can’t simply be told that practices towards disabled populations are harmful and discriminating while allowing the Canadian government to continue implementing those practices through things like Bill C-7.