Witness Urges Senate to Kill Medical Assistance in Dying Bill in Final Round of Committee Hearing

February 4, 2021 Updated: February 5, 2021

Gabrielle Peters is a writer with disabilities who lives on one of the lowest incomes in Canada. She was admitted to a hospital in Vancouver following the onset of a rare autoimmune system disease in 2009. Soon after, her partner left her to become homeless after the disease made her unable to work. But she hung on to life on the belief that everyone can to choose to live with dignity.

But Peters is concerned that people with disabilities may be deprived of the choice to live following the introduction of Bill C-7, an Act to amend the Criminal Code on medical assistance in dying (MAiD). She questioned the justifications for MAiD in a statement presented at a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

It was the last round of witness testimony that senators heard before the committee went into the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-7 on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs accepted the bill on Wednesday evening, but members have agreed to hold off proposing amendments until the Senate returns next week for the final debate.

“Decades of dire warnings about how old and disabled people were going to burden our health care and society has been matched by marketing MAiD as a heroic, brave, self-sacrificing, and honorable death,” Peters said. “[But] you’d shocked by the number of times I’ve been called selfish for wanting health care by health care professionals.”

During her testimony, Peters said that while government commissioned studies have found some potential cost savings to amending the MAiD, they had only considered it in comparison to the costs for end-of-life care.

“[They] imagine the cost-savings of the early death of a disabled person with not dying, and has decades of health care, and possibly income, and other supports ahead of them,” Peters said. “If it’s not cost-saving, then we are left with ableism versus the rugged individualism Canadian myth.”

Bill C-7 was introduced to Parliament in October 2020, in an attempt to bring the federal law into compliance with a September 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that found it unconstitutional to only allow MAiD for people whose death is foreseeable, as authorized in the current law, Bill C-14.

Greater Access for Palliative Care

Opposition Conservatives have contested the need for the legislation to include safeguard measures, such as the previously removed 10-day reflection time for patients who have requested MAiD. They have also called for the greater support for palliative care from the government.

“Palliative care is essential care, that’s part of a care continuum right up until terminal care or end-of-life care. It ends with the natural death of the person,” Sen. Marie-Françoise Mégie told the committee.

Mégie, who is also a physician, said the Canadian public doesn’t know enough about palliative care, medical care for people living with a serious illness, arguing that most patients who qualify would have possibly chosen the care over the MAiD, had they had more information about that option.

She quoted a letter from the Minister of Health that said “the majority of people who have received MAiD would have benefited from palliative care services.”

“It’s very common for patients receiving palliative care to tell us that if they had known what palliative care could offer them, in a place like a palliative care home, they would have accepted it much earlier,” she said.

Meanwhile, Joshua Wales, a palliative care physician for Sinai Health, told the committee that he supports the removal of the 10-day reflection period for people whose death is near.

“While I understand its original intention, in most cases, their reflection period has become a meaningless logistical barrier,” Wales said. “It’s elimination will decrease the duration of suffering of those eligible for MAiD and desire it as soon as possible.”

Wales said that, from his experience, patients do not impulsively request MAiD, but have often decided weeks, months, and even years ahead.