By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition
CTV National News Medical Correspondent, Avis Favaro, reported on April 13 of a (MAiD) euthanasia death in February of a 51-year-old Ontario woman who had severe chemical sensitivities. According to Favaro, the woman was not terminally ill but living with a chronic condition that makes her highly sensitive to chemical sensitivities and environmental allergies.
Favaro writes, “The woman’s assisted death appears to be a first in the world for someone diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), a chronic condition also referred to as an environmental illness or environmental allergies, say patient support groups and doctors familiar with her case.”
This story represents the ultimate form of abandonment whereby this woman died by MAiD, not because of “unremitting suffering” but because the government wouldn’t help her find appropriate housing. Favaro wrote:
She died after a frantic effort by friends, supporters and even her doctors to get her safe and affordable housing in Toronto. She also left behind letters showing a desperate two-year search for help, in which she begs local, provincial and federal officials for assistance in finding a home away from the smoke and chemicals wafting through her apartment.
“This person begged for help for years, two years, wrote everywhere, called everywhere, asking for healthy housing,” said Rohini Peris, President of the Environmental Health Association of Québec (ASEQ-EHAQ).
“It’s not that she didn’t want to live,” Peris said from her home in Saint Sauveur, Que. “She couldn’t live that way.”
Her chemical sensitivities seemed to be worsened by the Covid crisis, as Favaro writes:
Research shows that many symptoms of MCS dissipate when chemicals are removed from a person’s environment. But, like Canadians across the country, Sophia had to spend a lot of time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
Letters she wrote said that indoor cigarette and pot smoking increased, sending fumes through her Scarborough apartment building’s ventilation system. More chemical cleaners were used in the hallways that worsened her symptoms. She confined herself to her bedroom — or “dungeon,” as she called it — for most of the pandemic, sealing the vents to keep cigarette and pot smoke from wafting into her unit.
Her doctors tried to help her. As Favaro wrote:
Four Toronto doctors were aware of Sophia’s case and they also wrote to federal housing and disability government officials on her behalf. In that letter the doctors confirmed that her symptoms improved in cleaner air environments and asked for help to find or build a chemical-free residence.
“We physicians find it UNCONSCIONABLE that no other solution is proposed to this situation other than medical assistance in dying,” they wrote.
The letter was signed by Dr. Lynn Marshall, an environmental physician, Dr. Chantal Perrot, a family physician and MAiD provider, Dr. Justine Dembo, a psychiatrist, and Dr. James Whyte, a family doctor and psychotherapist. The physicians who wrote the letter all declined to speak to CTV News.
“It was an easy fix,” said Dr. Riina Bray, a Toronto physician who treats those with environmental sensitivities. “She just needed to be helped to find a suitable place to live, where there wasn’t smoke wafting and through the vents.”
“If people have to go and kill themselves, that would be a very pathetic thing and it will be heard by the rest of the world because it’s not acceptable,” said Bray.
Friends set up a go-fund me page that was promoted by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition to raise money for a suitable place to live:
Friends set up a fundraiser and collected approximately $12,000 to try to help Sophia get better housing, away from chemicals and smoke. But by then Sophia had an appointment to have a medically-assisted death.
“If nothing turns up before FEB 22 please know that it is ok,” wrote Sophia in an email in early 2022. “I already have a way out. I don’t have the energy to fight anymore.”
Dr. Claudia Miller, a professor emerita in the department of allergy/immunology and environmental health at the University of Texas, said this death was unbelievable. Favaro reports:
The solutions, she said, are cleaning up the environments to prevent new cases, and making homes and apartments smoke and chemical free. She’s never heard of a patient being granted an assisted death instead of proper housing.
“It’s a sad statement. …people are so desperate they do want to die,” Miller said from her home in San Antonio in an interview with CTV News. “I think that’s completely an indication of a huge failure…a societal failure. It’s …..such a bad statement about not just Canadian government, but any government that allows that to occur,” she said.
Since Sophia’s death more Canadians with chemical sensitivities have applied for MAiD. Favaro reports that Rohini Peris is concerned:
“I’m terrified,” said Peris. “I don’t believe this is the answer. I think the answer is to get together and fight the government that they will do the right thing,” said Peris, who is advocating for a national program to build chemical-free homes.
Why did two medical authorities approve her death? Clearly this is the ultimate case of abandonment to death.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.