Vulnerable Canadians Deserve Better Care, Not Death

by Katherine Noble

Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program is one of the largest state-sanctioned euthanization programs. It allows for the euthanization of any individual over 18 years old who is considered mentally competent and capable of making informed healthcare decisions. They must have an “irreversible, grievous medical condition, which includes a serious illness, disease or disability” and their condition must also include “unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be relieved in a way they find acceptable. Applicants, however, do not need to have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible.

The program began in earnest in 2016, but in recent years has become overwhelmed. Demand for this program has become so large that it had to be halted for three weeks, resuming operation in October of 2021. The program also hired a full-time nurse practitioner whose sole job is to provide assessments and referrals for the program.

On a year-to-year comparison, deaths from medically assisted dying or MAID rose 36 percent from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, 373 people were referred to the program in Nova Scotia. Three-quarters or 75.5 percent of people who applied in 2019 and 2020 for MAiD received it. As of September 2021, the health authority had received 395 referrals. In 2021, three percent of all deaths in Canada were through MAiD.

Why has this program become so popular? Simply put, it’s cheaper for the government and more accessible to vulnerable people than actual healthcare is. Only 30 percent of Canadians have access to the kind of basic palliative care that would make it easier to live with a terminal or chronic condition.

It is not required that a person’s condition must be terminal for them to utilize MAiD. When faced with a lack of other options, people with disabilities might feel pressured to choose this path when they don’t actually want to die but also don’t wish to live under the only circumstances they can afford.

Krista Carr, executive vice-president of the disability rights organization Inclusion Canada, says that many people with disabilities would prefer more government assistance over the option of medically assisted death. "They don't actually want to die, they want to live. But they want to live a life on par with other people, which is entirely possible with proper support. But yet we're not prepared to provide that."

Money spent on state euthanization programs is money that could be spent on social programs that benefit vulnerable people. Programs like this show how we prioritize the comfort of the unaffected over the literal lives of vulnerable people. Why is it shocking and tragic to us when someone young and healthy commits suicide, but “dignified” when someone older or with disabilities or mental illness is euthanized? How can the government determine whose quality of life makes it no longer worthwhile?

Politicians have indicated that in the future, they look to expand this program to include the mentally ill or those suffering from psychiatric issues. Mental health care is deeply underfunded in Canada, with wait times of six months to one year for therapy and counseling. Of the Canadians ages 15+ who needed mental health care, only two-thirds stated that their needs were met.

It is far easier and cheaper to let people die than it is to provide lasting and substantive care throughout their lives. Disabled lives do not have less value, nor do those of the mentally ill or elderly. In order to combat this culture of death, we must declare that human lives hold value over convenience and money.

Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.