Will you rise to the defense of human rights?

16 November 2020

Disability rights groups oppose Bill C-7 in Justice Committee hearings

“Bill C-7 is our worst nightmare,” Krista Carr of Inclusion Canada told MPs.

Every national disability rights organization in Canada is opposed to Bill C-7. Last week, disability advocates including Carr told the Justice Committee about their alarm and strong opposition to this bill that would allow euthanasia on the basis of disability.

We want to share with you some of their compelling testimony and give you some ideas of what you can do.

“Why us?” ask disability advocates

A common question asked by disability advocates was, “Why us?” During the meeting of the Justice Committee, advocates wondered out loud why people with disabilities are being given a shortcut to assisted death. As Krista Carr of Inclusion Canada further shared:

Why us? As no other Charter protected Canadian life is being put at risk by this bill, there is only one answer to this question: The lives of Canadians with disabilities are not of equal value.

Language and perceptions are powerful. Including disability as a condition warranting assisted suicide equates to declaring some lives as not worth living, a historically horrific premise with consequences that should terrify us all, and clearly terrifies the disability community and their families.

Dr. Catherine Frazee, author and activist, questioned why there is a special pathway to assisted death for people with disabilities.

Universality is the bedrock of our healthcare commitment. Why, then, does Bill C-7 depart so radically, dropping the threshold for MAID for one social group known to bear the trauma of suicide at catastrophic rates, but not for others who suffer and die before their time? What is it about disability that makes this okay?

Echoing the other speakers and explaining his own deep opposition to euthanasia in general and for people with disabilities in particular, Dr. Ewan Goligher said, “We do not destroy that which we regard as profoundly and intrinsically valuable.”

Lack of meaningful options

Many witnesses explained that a lack of meaningful options is driving people with disabilities toward MAID. Here is insight from Dr. Heidi Janz, a specialist in disability ethics:

Recent news reports indicate that some people with disabilities living in poverty are being driven to end their lives through MAID because they lack the means to survive. Physicians report that patients with disabilities are requesting MAID upon learning that the wait time for accessible housing with the supports they require is 10 years or more.

Roger Foley, a patient who has been vocal about the pressure he has received to accept assisted dying, described for MPs his struggle to receive care. He explained, “What is happening to vulnerable persons in Canada is so wrong. Assisted dying is easier to access than safe and appropriate disability supports to live.”

Krista Carr implored the Committee to listen to the voices in the room last week:

We are speaking. We are trying to speak. We are united. But our voices are being drowned out by people who do not experience the systemic marginalization, the poverty, and the very difficult lack of supports and life experiences that people with disabilities experience that lead them into situations where MAID is either promoted to them or they feel it is their only option.

What’s at stake?

Speakers weighed in on the very high stakes of Bill C-7. Dr. Ewan Goligher, an assistant professor in the Interdepartmental Division of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Toronto and a clinician scientist at the University Health Network, said that

Bill C-7 declares that an entire class of people, those with physical disabilities, are potentially appropriate for suicide, that their lives are potentially not worth living. Indeed, were it not for their disability, we would not be willing to end them. I cannot imagine a more degrading and discriminatory message for our society to communicate to our fellow citizens living with disabilities.

Dr. Janz encouraged the Committee to see the broader implications of the bill.

The Council for Canadians with Disabilities, along with the entire disability rights community in Canada, is therefore pleading with policymakers to rethink and revise Bill C-7 in light of the reality of systemic ableism. You must ensure that MAID does not weaponize systemic ableism in Canada.

Defending human rights

Dr. Catherine Frazee ended her presentation to the MPs on the Justice Committee by asking “…will you rise to the defense of human rights?”

We want to take up Frazee’s challenge and echo her question to Canadian Christians. Will you take a few minutes now to call or email your MP today and ask them to oppose Bill C-7? The lives of people with disabilities are at stake.

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