A joint committee is reviewing MAiD in Canada and looking to possibly extend it to those who fear living with dementia. Photo by Michael Swan

Disability advocate paints MAiD as racist

  • May 25, 2022

The evidence piling up before a special joint committee on Medical Assistance in Dying includes a disability rights advocate calling Canadian senators and MPs racist and ableist to their faces.

“How will you make amends for the lives that have been lost so far due to systemic coercion because of your decision to expand MAID specifically for the disabled community?” Sarah Jama, executive director of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, asked senators and MPs conducting a mandated review of MAiD legislation and exploring options for extending assisted suicide to mature minors, the mentally ill and advance directives from people who fear living with dementia. (Submission can be made to the committee until May 30).

Jama went further, arguing that allowing people to order up an assisted death in advance of severe dementia would target Black people.

“You guys spend a lot of time talking about dementia, but dementia disproportionately impacts Black and racialized people who are caregivers, who are staying at home and supporting families, and you’ve not heard from Black people living in that situation,” Jama fired at the politicians. “Black people are less likely to send family members into long-term care institutions because of how volatile those situations are, with mistreatment and racism there too. ... will Black people be, you know, pushed into accessing MAID versus other treatments that should be available? I think yes.”

In other submissions, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada (CHAC) has also pleaded with the committee for the right to continue operating its institutions according to a Catholic ethos while doctors who perform MAiD insist they are no threat to vulnerable patients suffering from inadequate mental health supports and suboptimal palliative care.

In a written submission, the CHAC, representing 129 Catholic health-care providers from hospitals and nursing homes to home nursing care agencies, called MAiD a poor substitute for an equitable health-care system.

“Approaches such as MAiD fail to recognize the importance of addressing societal inequities and injustice and, in our opinion, contribute to a position which treats vulnerable people as a burden on society, resulting in an increased threat to their very existence,” the alliance wrote in its submission, signed by governing council chair Sara Fowler, president and CEO John Ruetz and ethics advisor Hazel Markwell. “Any expansion of the eligibility criteria for MAiD will further exacerbate the existing inequalities.”

The CHAC also asked the committee to “affirm the protection of conscience rights of medical professionals” and “promote the mission and religious purpose of health-care organizations with Catholic identity.”

The president of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers rejected the claim that inadequate palliative care, an incomplete and stressed mental health system or socioeconomic barriers were pushing people into assisted suicide.

“While it is true that not all Canadians have equal access to quality palliative care and more needs to be done to improve this, national data suggests that 83 per cent of all those who received MAiD in Canada in 2020 were receiving palliative care, and of those who were not, 88 per cent had access to palliative care if they had wished it,” Dr. Stephanie Green wrote in her submission.

Green was equally insistent that the MAiD system is not killing the poor, the marginal and the excluded.

“People who proceed with MAiD are at least anecdotally disproportionally advantaged versus socioeconomically vulnerable,” she wrote.

The Care Not Kill campaign sought to bring the politicians around to the suicide part of assisted suicide.

“While advocates for MAiD like to view it as distinct from other forms of suicide, in fact MAiD normalizes suicide as a solution to suffering,” Anna Nienhuis of the Association for Reformed Political Action, which runs the campaign, wrote in a submission.

Nienhuis argues that the well-researched social contagion effect of suicide explains to some extent constantly rising numbers of MAiD deaths in Canada.

“Suicide prevention needs to remain a priority across the lifespan, for all Canadians,” Nienhaus wrote. “Anything else requires value judgments about the worthiness of another’s life — judgments that no human being should be making.”

On behalf of the MAiD doctors, Green pushed back against any connection between MAiD and assisted suicide.

“Medical assistance in dying involves a legal framework, a rigorous process, the involvement of multiple health-care practitioners and the option to involve many loved ones…. They are simply not the same.”

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