Opponents of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) expansion have expressed alarm in response to the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying’s report, “Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada: Choices for Canadians,” which was tabled Feb. 15. The report included 23 recommendations, one of which suggested the federal government offer assisted suicide to “mature minors” if they face a natural death that is “reasonably foreseeable.” The committee was formed in May 2021, as part of legislative requirements, to review existing MAID law, and held 36 meetings, listened to almost 150 witnesses, and received more than 350 briefs. The Conservative caucus released a dissenting report as an appendix, which objects to many of the committee’s recommendations, including one suggesting mature minors should be eligible for physician-assisted death. The committee’s report said it heard “a mix of views” about whether assisted suicide should be offered to minors under 18, and recommended that the government establish a requirement that the parents or guardians of a mature minor be “consulted” during the assessment process for assisted suicide, “but that the will of a minor who is found to have the requisite decision-making capacity ultimately take priority.” It also suggested the government should, within five years, “undertake consultations” with minors on the topic of MAID, and conduct “research into the views and experiences of minors with respect to MAID,” including “minors with terminal illnesses, minors with disabilities, minors in the child welfare system and Indigenous minors.” The committee’s recommendations included that the government should implement some quality and standardization protocols for MAID services offered across the country, and set standards to assess requests for assisted suicide. It also recommended the federal government “increase awareness of the importance of engaging with First Nations, Inuit and Métis on the subject of MAID,” and allow advance requests for assisted suicide. The committee notes that palliative care is not a prerequisite to access or receive assisted suicide, but recommended the government increase funding and improve access to high-quality, culturally appropriate, timely end-of-life care. It also recommended that Health Canada investigate “promising therapies” like psilocybin, otherwise known as hallucinogenic, psychedelic magic mushrooms, as part of palliative care.
Disabilities Inclusion Canada, an organization that advocates for the disabled, issued a Feb. 16 statement criticizing the final report of the committee. “It can’t be sugar coated—people with disabilities and their allies were ignored,” said the group. Calling the report a “discriminatory disaster,” Inclusion Canada said people with disabilities were “disrespected” by the committee. “Their lived experience was discredited and dismissed. Many were also denied requested accommodations to deliver their testimony.” Krista Carr, the group’s executive vice-president, alleged the committee members “made up their mind about expanding MAID before consulting with the disability community.” She said that individuals with intellectual disabilities would be placed at “even greater risk” by the suggestion that assisted suicide could be expanded to mature minors and with advance requests.
The Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), a Christian grassroots political organization, echoed similar criticisms, calling the report “reckless” and a “tragedy.” In a brief submitted to the committee, ARPA said offering assisted suicide was “fundamentally different from any other medical service.” “Advising someone to obtain chemotherapy or pain medication is not a crime, but advising or encouraging someone to end their own life is still a crime,” said the brief. Mike Schouten, ARPA’s director of advocacy, told The Epoch Times that the current legislation does not protect the vulnerable. “In seven years, Canada has gone from suicide being illegal to one of the most expansive regimes in the world” offering physician-assisted suicide, he said. He said while the report agrees somewhat with the government’s suggestion to delay expanding assisted suicide to mentally ill individuals for another year, in all other areas the report recommends expansion of assisted suicide. Schouten lost his 18-year-old son to cancer last year, and the youth’s last days were spent in high-quality pediatric palliative care. He said his son was “not treated as somebody whose life was not worth living anymore … the goal was to ensure he lived every day well in his dying days.” “We’ve lost that sense of human compassion,” says Schouten. “It doesn’t matter how it impacts society, how it impacts your family, how it impacts other people, how it impacts the healthcare system, how it impacts palliative care, you get to decide that your life is going to end now, and nobody can stop you.”
MP Michael Cooper, who presented the Conservative Party’s dissenting report, called the committee’s recommendations “reckless.” He told The Epoch Times that the committee majority, specifically all parties except the Conservatives, “turned a blind eye to [the] serious problem with the existing MAID regime,” even after hearing vulnerable people were falling through the cracks due to a lack of safeguards. “Expanding MAID to mental illness cannot be done safely,” said the MP. He said the government is driven by ideology. “It’s not an appropriate treatment for Canadians struggling with mental illness to offer them MAID. We need to offer them help and hope.” The government can choose to accept all, some, or none of the report’s recommendations, according to Cooper, and the government’s response to the MAID report will be tabled 120 days after the report was tabled. If the report’s recommendations are accepted, it would make Canada “the most permissive MAID regime in the world,” he said.
On Feb. 2, the government announced it would introduce legislation to temporarily delay expanding assisted suicide to mentally ill patients for one year. Ray Pennings, executive vice president of the think tank Cardus, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that the government has not seriously assessed current safeguards for medically assisted suicide, and has not given due consideration to whether Canadians facing poverty, disability, or other conditions have enough support to “live with dignity” instead of choosing to die. “Is Canada creating a right to suicide? How well do existing safeguards protect vulnerable Canadians?” he said. He noted there are also moral and ethical considerations and questions about the availability of palliative care. “Have we thought through the implications of sending the message to thousands of disabled, discouraged, and otherwise disadvantaged Canadians that their neighbours might think we are better off without them?” he said. According to Pennings, the message is prevalent that assisted suicide is the answer to suffering, but there are people who would “thrive and prosper with encouragement or other help.” He said the government needs to make palliative care universally available. No Canadian should be looking at medically assisted suicide “because of a lack of housing, insufficient income or inadequate support for physical disabilities or mental illness,” he added.
A Calgary woman, who asked not to be named, told The Epoch Times her father suffered from Alzheimer’s. He died six years ago from aspiration pneumonia, having lost the ability to swallow. After watching her father slowly decline, she says she understood why some people sign up for MAID. Her father tried to commit suicide, but was unsuccessful due to his mental decline. Due to the attempt, he was put into the hospital under psychiatric care. “He was in the hospital system for approximately another year … where he was for all intents a prisoner in a hospital unit and subject to abuse, by being restrained physically for hours in a Jerry Chair, or chemically with drugs that affected his ability to walk as well as other physical abilities and functions.” She said her father planned his escape daily, and was never outdoors again. She said while she sometimes wished he had succeeded in his suicide attempt “as he was clearly in mental anguish and aware he was losing his capacity to live as he would have wished,” during his last days, he “was able to take pleasure in many small things.” “I cherished the time I did have with him, and the memories made,” she said. “He was kept as comfortable as possible until his passing. From my own perspective, MAID will always be a grey area.” “Yes we wish to lessen or eliminate suffering,” she said. “But people can and do change their minds quickly, even if they are suffering.”
In 2015, after a Supreme Court decision that found denying assisted suicide violated the Charter, the government amended the criminal code to allow adults with a grievous and irremediable medical condition, whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” to access medical assistance in dying. Opponents of MAID expansion are expressing alarm about the new report’s recommendation to offer assisted suicide to mature minors, as well as its other recommendations which could make Canada the most permissive MAID regime in the world. Disabilities Inclusion Canada and the Association for Reformed Political Action have criticized the report for not protecting the vulnerable and for disregarding the lived experiences of the disabled. MP Michael Cooper has called the committee’s recommendations “reckless.” Ray Pennings of Cardus has questioned the availability of palliative care and the implications of sending the message to