Wednesday, 13 April, 2022 : This can only be described as a dark and murky day for PWD in Canada. Canada’s federal Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying [MAiD] met to “provide clarity” on various legal concerns regarding the expansion of MAiD to include a variety of Mental Health conditions. Sadly, on the same day, it was reported that Sophia — a woman suffering from severe chemical sensitivities — chose MAiD in late February, rather than continue her struggle to find affordable and accessible housing. The contrast between these reports could not be more stark; they also highlight the disparity between how 1) Canadian parliamentarians, and 2) PWD with lived experience are responding to this legislation.
The Special Joint Committee discussion included:
- MAiD was originally intended to address the concerns of patients in palliative care. Many responses indicated that the majority of MAiD requests came from this community — according to reporting from practitioners specific to palliative care. However, when asked directly about the impact on PWD suffering from mental health concerns choosing MAiD as an alternative to abject poverty, “no statistics were available”.
- Witnesses from a variety of Mental Health professions were unable to provide details on MAiD requests from that community. They referenced that it was “difficult” to separate mental health concerns from other conditions: COVID, comorbidities, physical health, etc..
- Issues specific to PWD living in poverty, fighting for socio-economic supports, and finally choosing MAiD were consistently side-stepped by ranking members of the committee.
- Data on the intersectionality of disability, poverty, and social supports is scheduled to be available in 2nd quarter 2024 — a full 2+ years in the future.
There appears to be a disconnect between what our parliamentarians perceive MAiD to be and how it is being accessed in the PWD community. All direct questions about the effects of poverty on MAiD requests were either side-stepped or “tabled” for a later response. Unbelievable.
In stark contrast, Sophia had been fighting for many years to find affordable and accessible housing that wouldn’t compound her chemical sensitivities. Somehow, in 2022, in Canada, in Ontario …. they were unable to find Sophia housing. Almost any “green construction” dwelling would have met the majority of her needs. This is inexcusable. Sophia’s struggles are emblematic of the majority of PWD in Canada — abject poverty is the norm, social supports are almost non-existent, various levels of Government shift the responsibility to others, many PWD struggle endlessly and choose MAiD to end that struggle.
Regardless of what MAiD was intended to address, our Federal Government must address the numerous inequalities between PWD and others in our society. Expanding MAiD to include chronic mental health conditions has resulted in the perception that it is a back-door death sentence, intended to “solve” the existence of PWD. Legislators continue to ignore the chasm between the intent of MAiD and why it is being requested by members of the PWD community.
Canada must do better in its response to PWD concerns. Canada must accelerate the timeline for reports from the Special Committee, and further input regarding the promised Canada Disability Benefit. Every day of delay is another day when PWD will choose MAiD as their final solution. Two years (at minimum) is an unacceptable, egregious, and wilfully ignorant burden to place on PWD that already suffer in their daily lives.
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