‘Abandoning People’: Canada’s Broadening Assisted Suicide Law Dangerous for the Vulnerable, Critics Say

‘Abandoning People’: Canada’s Broadening Assisted Suicide Law Dangerous for the Vulnerable, Critics Say
A 60-year-old woman suffering from cancer rests in a hospital palliative care unit. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Wilson

Canada’s broadening medical assistance in dying (MAiD) law has already harmed the country’s most vulnerable and will continue to do so unless amended, say critics of the legislation.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Canada, says there are many recent cases that showcase this point. He cites the case of a woman who says she was suffering from long COVID. 
“Because she’s not able to work, she’s finding out that she can’t live in her home anymore. She can’t afford it. So she’s saying that if things don’t turn around for her soon, she’s applying for euthanasia,” says Schadenberg, author of the book "Exposing Vulnerable People to Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.
Another case, he says, is a woman living with a chronic disability in Victoria, B.C., who turned to MAiD due to insufficient health care. 

“She has been unable to get treatment for her symptoms. So she’s been trying to go to the U.S. for treatment, but she doesn’t have enough money for that. But she’s been approved for euthanasia,” he said.

The law surrounding MAiD in Canada has been revised and expanded more than once since the procedure was legalized in 2016.

Initially, eligibility applied to those suffering from a serious condition, disease, or disability that was impossible to reverse through treatment.

The law also stated that patients could only apply if they were undergoing “unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be relieved under conditions that patients consider acceptable,“ and if their death was ”reasonably foreseeable.”

In addition, their application had to be approved by at least two physicians.

In 2021, the federal government passed Bill C-7, which amended the law to remove the requirement that patients have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible.
In March 2023, patients whose only serious medical condition is a mental illness will also be eligible for MAiD.

World’s ‘Most Permissive’ Assisted Suicide Laws

London, Ont., family doctor Ramona Coelho has worked with many patients who suffer from disabilities and strongly opposes Canada’s broadening MAiD laws.

Coelho told The Epoch Times about 71-year-old Ernest McNeill, who was admitted to a hospital after a fall. He was isolated from his family for a long time due to COVID-19 restrictions and contracted an infectious diarrheal illness while in hospital.

“The staff made very inappropriate comments about him,” said Coehlo, adding that McNeill “felt quite sad about it and he was in a lot of pain.”

“Someone on the [hospital] team raised the idea [of] medical assistance in dying [and] that he would qualify and told him all about it,” she said.

The health-care staff quickly diagnosed McNeill with a severe case of bronchitis, called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which Coehlo said McNeill didn’t know he had.

“But he trusted them,” Coehlo said. “So he basically accepted his death based on a diagnosis of COPD when he was acutely sick and feeling terrible.”

Speaking before the House of Commons special joint committee on MAiD in May 2022, Coelho questioned whether McNeill was coerced into accepting MAiD.
“Was MAiD raised because his admission was longer than expected as a result of his being a victim of ageism?” asked Coelho. “Did he choose MAiD because his acute care team made him feel horrible? His family believes so.”
Canada’s assisted suicide law stipulates that the patients must initiate their own MAiD application for it to be valid. Any unprompted suggestions by health-care professionals are unlawful.

“No one should be encouraging MAiD as a means to save money or address staffing shortages,” the organization Dying With Dignity Canada told The Epoch Times in an email. “There are strenuous criteria and safeguards, as set forth in the law, for all MAiD assessments and approvals.”

In July, Coelho published an article in The London Free Press calling Canada’s MAiD laws “the most permissive euthanasia and assisted-suicide legislation in the world.”

She said several United Nations officials have warned the Canadian government that “our MAiD law will lead to human rights violations.”

“I feel that the MAiD regime is really dangerous,” Coelho told the committee.

‘You Can Just Apply to Get Assisted’

Schadenberg raised the story of Roger Foley, a London, Ont., man who in his early 40s was offered MAiD by hospital staff without having requested it and was even told he would pay extraordinary hospital fees if he continued his long hospital stay. 
“He needs 24-hour care,” said Schadenberg. “And the hospital was saying, ‘Well, you can pay $1,500 a day and stay here or you can get euthanasia. There’s your choices.’”
Foley, who suffered from an incurable brain disorder that practically paralyzed him, recorded audio clips of health-care workers at the hospital offering him MAiD and released them to CTV News in 2018.

“How are you feeling, Rog? Are you feeling like you want to harm yourself or anything like that?” asked one worker at the London Health Sciences Centre. “You can just apply to get assisted—if you want to end your life.”

Another worker told Foley it would cost him “north of $1,500 a day” to remain in hospital.

Foley refused MAiD and was eventually granted his original wish to receive home care. But Schadenberg said Foley’s story is just another example of  MAiD causing health-care workers to “abandon” their patients.
“You’re in a bad situation, and instead of receiving care ... euthanasia is the only real option you can apply for and get,” he said.

‘Vulnerable Canadians Are Being Put at Risk’

Allegations recently became public of a Veteran Affairs worker recommending MAiD to a veteran seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury.
The anonymous veteran told Global News that the recommendation was completely unprompted and that he “felt betrayed and disgusted by the suggestion.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said the incident goes to show the inevitable consequences resulting from Canada’s MAiD law.

“This is for all the politicians who said the lack of safeguards wasn’t an issue,” Genuis said on Twitter. “You were warned. Repeatedly.”
Conservative MP Michael Cooper called it “yet another instance of abuse under the Liberals MAID regime,” adding that “vulnerable Canadians are being put at risk.”

Health Canada told The Epoch Times in an email that Canada has “a high bar for accessing MAID” through “eligibility criteria” and “safeguards” set forth in the law.

“Just as persons with physical ailments must be suffering grievously and be in an advanced state of decline arising from an incurable condition in order to receive MAID, only individuals with severe and long-standing mental illnesses that have been resistant to multiple treatments and interventions would ever be deemed eligible for MAID,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said.

Canada’s assisted suicide rates have been steadily rising since legalization. Health Canada’s “Third Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada,” from 2021, showed that 10,064 instances of MAiD were provided that year, an increase of 32.4 percent compared to 2020.

This was Canada’s largest-ever number of MAiD cases in one year. The previous numbers were 1,018 in 2016, 2,838 in 2017, 4,480 in 2018, 5,661 in 2019, and  7,603 in 2020.

The 10,064 MAiD deaths in 2021 accounted for 3.3 percent of all deaths in Canada that year.

“The rise is continuing, whether it continues at that rate or it slows down,” said Schadenberg.

Ontario saw over 1,800 assisted deaths from January to June 2022. Since MAiD became legal in 2016, Ontario has seen over 11,600 deaths from this procedure.

“The fact of it is, MAiD is already the sixth-leading cause of death in Canada,” Schadenberg said. “And so will it go much higher than that? The answer is yes.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.