By Amy Hasbrouck
In July of 2019 several Québec media outlets reported on the suicide death of Jacques Campeau, who had Multiple Sclerosis [MS]. The stories focused on his family’s anger over the fact that he was denied euthanasia several times because he was not at the “end of life”; the family brought his death to the attention of the media in order to put pressure on politicians and the courts to loosen this eligibility criteria. But details from the articles show that Mr. Campeau really needed help to live, not to die.
According to his daughters, Mr. Campeau was “increasingly despondent and withdrawn” and his wife said he had talked about suicide for a year. “I would come home every evening afraid he had done it.”
Depression is a well-known problem associated with MS, both as a reaction to flare-ups, and as part of the disease itself. It can be made worse by pain and fatigue that often come with MS. If Mr. Campeau was not being treated for depression, he was not getting the care he needed.
The articles not only showed that Mr. Campeau had low self-esteem, but also reinforced those beliefs about people living with MS and other chronic diseases. According to the Journal de Montréal, he told his family that he was nothing more than a digestive tract. The reporter described his “suffering” by saying he used a wheelchair and incontinence products, and “hadn’t seen the light of day since November.” His daughter said he had “no quality of life,” and that he was a “prisoner of his body.”
Rather than asking if Mr. Campeau had received peer support or “dignity therapy” to deal with his existential distress, the journalists repeated negative stereotypes of life with a disability as a fate worse than death.
Media reports suggested Mr. Campeau was losing autonomy, but there was no mention of in-home assistance. His daughter told of receiving a call at work “telling her [Mr. Campeau] had fallen at home and had been lying on the floor for two hours, waiting to call when he knew she was on break.”
Mr. Campeau’s family expressed disappointment over not getting a chance to say good-bye. “We would have preferred to have a last moment with him … to have a dinner with him, tell him that we love him. We would have liked to talk to him before he did this.” They believe a planned death would have met their need for closure.
The only other sources cited by the journalists were spokespeople for “Dying with Dignity” and a pro-euthanasia doctor. The reporters included a link to the family’s petition to change the “end-of-life” eligibility criterion. The articles did not quote people living with MS or experts in palliative care or suicide prevention. The Journal de Montréal included information on how to obtain MAiD and the suicide prevention telephone number.
The tragedy here is not that Mr. Campeau didn’t die by euthanasia, or even that he committed suicide. The tragedy is that those who surrounded him seemed to think that MS, a chronic illness that includes flare-up and remission, was a terminal illness, and that his life was not worth living because of his disability.
The tragedy lies in the fact that he did not have the services and supports he needed to adapt to his changing condition, feel good about himself, maintain his independence, and get peer counseling and suicide prevention services that could have improved the quality of his life, and ultimately saved it.
Amy Hasbrouck is the President of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and the founder of Toujours Vivant – Not Dead Yet (TVNDY) a non-religious organization by and for disabled people.