A breaking story from Canada should be compulsory reading for everyone who has been led to believe that the push to have Assisted Suicide legalised will bring about a more compassionate system.
A 31 year old woman living with disabilities has been approved by doctors to have her life ended by Assisted Suicide - because she has tried in vain to secure affordable accommodation which would assist her to live.
Identified only as "Denise", the woman does not have a terminal illness, and one of her doctors - who is "shocked" that none of the doctors involved in the assisted suicide application process have contacted her - says that what her patient needs is help with finding a suitable home.
Denise was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), which means she suffers from rashes, has difficulty breathing, and endures blinding headaches called hemiplegic migraines that can cause her temporary paralysis. The Canadian woman says she is at risk of anaphylactic shock and carries EpiPens at all times in case of a life-threatening allergic attack.
A spinal cord injury six years ago has also left her in a wheelchair.
This young woman desperately needs somewhere to live that is wheelchair accessible and has cleaner air so that MCS triggers can be avoided. But the Canadian state has failed to provide this vulnerable woman with debilitating conditions with a suitable home.
They will, however, help her to die by suicide. Denise, who is now set to have her life ended by the euphemistically named 'service', Medical Assistance in Dying, says: "I've applied for MAiD essentially...because of abject poverty".
Her only income comes from Ontario’s Disability Support Program (ODSP), which at $1,169 a month plus $50 for a special diet is far below the Canadian average monthly wage.
Denise said she and her friends and supporters had made exhaustive efforts to find suitable housing with reduced chemical and smoke exposure within her budget. The support services didn't come through for her.
"None of them were able to do anything meaningful in terms of getting me relocated, getting the discretionary emergency, or temporary housing and emergency funds," she told CTV News. In contrast, she was "surprised" at how easy it was to get approval for assisted suicide.
A psychiatrist, she said, first deemed her competent to make the decision. A second MAiD provider reviewed her medical history and signed the approval according to Denise. Another physician who offers medically assisted death has now asked her to finalize documents including a power of attorney and funeral arrangements along with a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order. She said she’s finishing up this documentation.
It is easier for the Canadian system to help its most vulnerable people to die - than to help them live, it seems. Recent evidence suggests that nudging the sick, the depressed and the poor towards assisted suicide might also be an unspoken preference for policymakers and politcians who are keenly aware that healthcare costs are high and suicide medication is cheap.
Assisted suicide was legalised in Canada in 2016 and immediately the number of people dying by this method began to climb. In five years, from 2016 to 2020, the numbers went through the roof - almost tripling in the second year from just over 1,000 deaths to almost 3,000 and then rapidly increasing each year to a shocking 7,595 people dying by assisted suicide in 2020.
Source: Government of Canada
That's a truly appalling seven-fold increase. In that brief time, safeguards were also tossed aside as the law was changed in jig time to allow for assisted suicide not just where the patient had a terminal illness but also where a person was experiencing depression or, as we have seen, 'abject poverty' or pretty much any reason at all.
In regard to Assisted Suicide, Canada hasn't so much experienced a slippery slope as a runaway train. And those who are poor, sick and most at risk are paying the price.
The Life Institute's 'Don't Assist Suicide' campaign points to a paper published in a leading Canadian medical journal which claimed that millions could be saved in reduced health care spending by assisted suicide.
The paper, entitled “Cost analysis of medical assistance in dying in Canada” and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, noted approvingly that assisting patients to end their own lives “could result in substantial savings”.
It noted: "If Canadians adopt medical assistance in dying in a manner and extent similar to those of the Netherlands and Belgium, we can expect a reduction in health care spending in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year”.”
Then there’s a report from the parliamentary budget office in Ottawa suggested that expanding access to Assisted Suicide would lead to nearly 1,200 more such deaths next year – and that this would be a saving of $149 million on end-of-life care spend.”
Nearer to home, “a disturbing paper published in the journal Clinical Ethics from two Scottish academics argued that Assisted Suicide “would save money and potentially release organs for transplant”. It seems, that for some powerful and influential people, offering Assisted Suicide may simply be all about the money.
The result of this hideously distorted thinking is the very real suffering of those who are coming under pressure to kill themselves because their lives are considered worthless by others.
In 2018, Roger Foley from Ontario, who suffers from an incurable neurological disease, made audio recordings of hospital staff offering him medically assisted death, although he had actually repeatedly asked for assistance to live at home.
Foley's devastating, heartbreaking testimony to a Parliamentary committee should have made headline news not just in Canada, but in every country that is considering legalising Assisted Suicide.
"With the assisted dying regime in Canada, I have experienced the lack of care and assistance I need to live. I have been denied food and water. I have not been assisted to transfer, take my medications and go to the bathroom. I have been abused and berated because I have disabilities and told my care needs are too much work. My life has been devalued," he said.
"I have been coerced into assisted death by abuse, neglect, lack of care and threats. For example, at a time when I was advocating for assistance to live and for self-directed home care, the hospital ethicist and nurses were trying to coerce me into an assisted death by threatening to charge me $1,800 per day or force-discharge me without the care I needed to live. I felt pressured by these staff raising assisted dying rather than relieving my suffering with dignified and compassionate care."
"Hospital staff failed to provide me with the necessities of life. I was starved and denied water for up to 20 days. I became severely acidotic. An expert who reviewed the case concluded a failure to provide necessities of life and gross negligence," he said.
Instead of being shamed by its horrendous treatment of Foley, Canada mostly ignored his plight and carried on regardless. Assisted Suicide continues to kill more and more people every year. Disability rights groups strongly opposed the legalisation of Assisted Suicide in Canada, warning of the inevitable deadly consequences. They were ignored, There was, after all, budget savings to consider.
There are many more Roger Foleys and Denises, amongst them being Sophia who underwent a desperate two-year search for help and support in living with a disability before dying by Assisted Suicide.
“The government sees me as expendable trash, a complainer, useless and a pain in the a**,” she tragically said in a video filmed eight days before her death.
“It’s not that she didn’t want to live,” her friend said. It was that "she couldn’t live that way."
Other jurisdictions where Assisted Suicide has been legalised see the same terrible, deeply saddening, inhumane devaluing of life. Take the case of Stephanie Packer.
One week after California legalised Assisted Suicide in 2016, Stephanie, a young mother of four who was fighting terminal cancer, received a disturbing letter from her health insurance company. She was told the chemotherapy treatment the insurance company had previously promised was now being denied. However, she was later informed that her plan would cover the cost of pills for assisted suicide — which would come to just $1.20.
Is this acceptable? Is this what we have become? We have upended the real meanings of compassion and care unless we realise that we cannot, and must not, allow ourselves to be railroaded into believing that the best we can offer those most in need of our care is that they end their own lives.
Assisted Suicide endangers the poor, the desperate and the sick. For the sake of people like Denise, it's long past time for us to stand up and demand that it be rejected.