Sunday, November 15, 2020
Catherine Frazee, Professor Emerita, Ryerson University School of Disability Studies
I speak today from the Mi’kma’ki the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. I am a settler here bound by treaties of peace and friendship, and mindful that we are, all of us, treaty people.
Madame Chair, I am sorry for any discomfort that my words may trigger. But with so little time I must speak frankly and without reserve.
Bill C-7 begs the question, why us, why only us? Why only people whose bodies are altered, or painful, or in decline?
Why not everyone who lives outside the margins of a decent life?
Everyone who resorts to an overdose, a high bridge, a shot gun carried out into the woods?
Why not everyone who decides that their quality of life is in the ditch?
Surely the answer rises up in all of our throats. That’s not who we are!
We dial 911. We pull you back from the ledge. And yes, we restrain you in your moment of crisis, autonomy be damned.
We will get to the heart of the problem that drove you out into the woods. And we will beckon you back toward a life that is bearable, unless your suffering is medical or disability-related.
Then and only then there will be a special pathway to assisted death.
Universality is the bedrock of our healthcare commitments.
Why then does Bill C-7 depart so radically, dropping the threshold for MAID for one social group 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?
Why such breathless confidence that Bill C-7 will bring no harm to disability communities?
Honestly, I do not know.
But as we marshal our evidence for the legal challenges that will follow if this Bill is passed, this is what we hear in reply.
Some say that the suffering of a disabling medical condition is unlike other suffering, somehow more cruel than the overwhelming pain of any healthy, non-disabled person who turns to premature death by suicide. But there is no evidence to support this.
Some say that the suffering of disability defies all hope, as it did, they claim for Jean Truchon. But the deprivations of institutional life that choked out his will to live were not an inevitable consequence of disability. Did we learn nothing from Archie Rolland’s harrowing struggle and his final cri de coeur before assisted death? “It’s not the ALS that’s killing me,” he said.
Some say that the suffering of disabling conditions falls in the domain of medicine. But the agonizing quest of Sean Tagert teaches us otherwise. Let’s not forget, he called the bureaucratic denials of needed care a death sentence, just days before his assisted death.
Some will fall back on the mantra of choice. They say that not everyone wants to live that way. But not everyone wants to live with the indignities of poverty, either. No one wants to live under threat of racial, or gendered, or colonial violence. No one wants to live hungry, incarcerated, abject, or alone.
Madame Chair, will our lawmakers carve out other shortcuts to assisted death for those who do live in such conditions? Or will you rise to the defence of human rights?
If the latter, I respectfully urge that you start with us, for our equality is, right now, on the line.