Canada

‘Disturbing’: Experts troubled by Canada’s euthanasia laws which arguably are the world’s most permissive

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Maria Cheng published an investigative report for the Associated Press on August 11 titled: ‘Disturbing’: Experts troubled by Canada’s euthanasia laws.

She writes

Disability experts say the story is not unique in Canada, which arguably has the world’s most permissive euthanasia rules — allowing people with serious disabilities to choose to be killed in the absence of any other medical issue. …

Canada is set to expand euthanasia access next year, but these advocates say the system warrants further scrutiny now.

Cheng interviews the family of Alan Nichols, Marie-Claude Landry, Tim Stainton, Theresia Degener, Trudo Lemmens, Heidi Janz, and others.

Cheng opens the article by writing about the euthanasia death of Alan Nichols. Cheng writes:

Alan Nichols had a history of depression and other medical issues, but none were life-threatening. When the 61-year-old Canadian was hospitalized in June 2019 over fears he might be suicidal, he asked his brother to “bust him out” as soon as possible.

Within a month, Nichols submitted a request to be euthanized and he was killed, despite concerns raised by his family and a nurse practitioner.

His application for euthanasia listed only one health condition as the reason for his request to die: hearing loss.

Nichols’ family reported the case to police and health authorities, arguing that he lacked the capacity to understand the process and was not suffering unbearably — among the requirements for euthanasia. They say he was not taking needed medication, wasn’t using the cochlear implant that helped him hear, and that hospital staffers improperly helped him request euthanasia.

“Alan was basically put to death,” his brother Gary Nichols said.

Trudo Lemmens, the chair of health law and policy at the University of Toronto, referred to the Nichols case as disturbing. Lemmen states:

“This case demonstrates that the rules are too loose and that even when people die who shouldn’t have died, there is almost no way to hold the doctors and hospitals responsible.”

Marie-Claude Landry, the head of Canada’s Human Rights Commission tells Cheng that Nichols’ euthanasia death is not unique. Landry states that:

[S]he shares the “grave concern” voiced last year by three U.N. human rights experts, who wrote that Canada’s euthanasia law appeared to violate the agency’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They said the law had a “discriminatory impact” on disabled people and was inconsistent with Canada’s obligations to uphold international human rights standards.

Tim Stainton, director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, told Cheng that Canada’s euthanasia law is

“probably the biggest existential threat to disabled people since the Nazis’ program in Germany in the 1930s.”

Cheng then tells the story of Sean Tagert, who died by euthanasia in August 2019. 

Some disabled Canadians have decided to be killed in the face of mounting bills.

Before being euthanized in August 2019 at age 41, Sean Tagert struggled to get the 24-hour-a-day care he needed. The government provided Tagert, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, with 16 hours of daily care at his home in Powell River, British Columbia. He spent about 264 Canadian dollars ($206) a day to pay coverage during the other eight hours.

Health authorities proposed that Tagert move to an institution, but he refused, saying he would be too far from his young son. He called the suggestion “a death sentence” in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Before his death, Tagert had raised more than CA$16,000 ($12,400) to buy specialized medical equipment he needed to live at home with caretakers. But it still wasn’t enough.

“I know I’m asking for change,” Tagert wrote in a Facebook post before his death. “I just didn’t realize that was an unacceptable thing to do.”

Heidi Janz, an assistant adjunct professor in Disability Ethics at the University of Alberta, tells Cheng that

“a person with disabilities in Canada has to jump through so many hoops to get support that it can often be enough to tip the scales” and lead them to euthanasia.”

Cheng continues by telling the story of Roger Foley, who was urged by hospital staff to request euthanasia:

Roger Foley, who has a degenerative brain disorder and is hospitalized in London, Ontario, was so alarmed by staffers mentioning euthanasia that he began secretly recording some of their conversations.

In one recording obtained by the AP, the hospital’s director of ethics told Foley that for him to remain in the hospital, it would cost “north of $1,500 a day.” Foley replied that mentioning fees felt like coercion and asked what plan there was for his long-term care.

“Roger, this is not my show,” the ethicist responded. “My piece of this was to talk to you, (to see) if you had an interest in assisted dying.”

Foley said he had never previously mentioned euthanasia. The hospital says there is no prohibition on staff raising the issue.

Catherine Frazee, a professor emerita at Toronto’s Ryerson University, referred to Roger Foley’s case as a “tip of the iceberg. ” Frazee told Cheng the story of Candice Lewis in Newfoundland:

Candice Lewis, a 25-year-old woman who has cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Lewis’ mother, Sheila Elson, took her to an emergency room in Newfoundland five years ago. During her hospital stay, a doctor said Lewis was a candidate for euthanasia and that if her mother chose not to pursue it, that would be “selfish,” Elson told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Cheng ends the article by quoting from Marie-Claude Landry who stated

leaders should listen to the concerns of those facing hardships who believe euthanasia is their only option. She called for social and economic rights to be enshrined in Canadian law to ensure people can get adequate housing, health care and support.

“In an era where we recognize the right to die with dignity, we must do more to guarantee the right to live with dignity,” she said.

Canada’s government has been committed to expanding its euthanasia law and is now debating expanding euthanasia to children (“mature minors”), incompetent people who requested it in their power of attorney for healthcare document, and for reasons of mental illness alone.

Canada needs to re-evaluate its euthanasia law and reverse its current permissive legal euthanasia law.

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.

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