Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 13, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).
Canadian food bank clients and disabled retirees facing financial insecurity are now considering doctor-assisted suicide to avoid living in poverty, several sources have reported.
“Based on the definitions in the Canadian law, nearly anyone with a chronic medical condition, such as people with disabilities, can be approved for euthanasia,” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told CNA Dec. 12.
“Therefore people with disabilities are requesting euthanasia based on poverty, homelessness, or an inability to receive needed medical treatment, but they are approved for euthanasia based on their disability,” he added.
Meghan Nicholls, CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank in Mississauga, an Ontario city west of Toronto, said demand has increased by 60% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her food bank network now serves 30,000 people per year, she reported in a Nov. 30 commentary for the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s.
For the first time, according to Nicholls, beneficiaries are reporting that the cost of food has put them into financial insolvency.
“We’re at the point where clients on these programs are telling us they’re considering medically assisted death or suicide because they can’t live in grinding poverty anymore,” she said in the Maclean’s report. “A client in our Food Bank 2 Home delivery program told one of our staff that they’re considering suicide because they’re so tired of suffering through poverty. Another client asked if we knew how to apply for MAID (medical assistance in dying) for the same reasons.”
“We can’t underestimate the effect that poverty has on someone’s mental health. Our clients live with constant worry and cut corners on needed items like medication, fresh food, or warm clothes — constantly living under that stress takes its toll mentally, emotionally, and physically,” Nicholls said.
“When people start telling us they’re going to end their life because they can’t live in poverty anymore, it’s clear that we’ve failed them,” she added.
Nicholls told Canada’s The Catholic Register that leaders of other food banks in Canada have not heard clients speak of plans to take their own lives.
“I don’t know if that’s a bit of an anomaly or if it’s just because we operate this home delivery program. We do have a chance to connect with clients directly, and that kind of relationship might open us up for people to share a little bit more vulnerably than perhaps some other food banks.”
Schadenberg said assisted suicide has become very easy to access in Canada.
“We need to understand that many people with disabilities live in poverty and find themselves having difficulty receiving necessary medical treatment and yet according to the law they have no difficulty being approved for death by euthanasia,” he told CNA. “Clearly this has led to an epidemic of death, of despair, in Canada. Deaths based on cultural abandonment but sold to the population under the false guise of freedom.”
In 2021, over 10,000 Canadians died by euthanasia, also called medical aid in dying or doctor-assisted suicide. This is 10 times the number who died by euthanasia in 2016, when the procedure was first legalized.
Among those seeking assisted suicide is Les Landry, a 65-year-old retired truck driver. He fears becoming homeless, the U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail reported. He lives with a service dog in Medicine Hat, Alberta. His disability income was cut when he turned 65 and his $120 per month surplus after paying for necessities and medicine will likely be consumed by a rent hike in January.
“Sooner or later it’s going to get to a point where I just won’t be able to afford to live,” he told The Daily Mail.
Landry uses a wheelchair and has diabetes and epilepsy but has been able to live comfortably until his benefits were shifted from a disability benefit to a benefits plan for senior citizens. He has spoken of his new uncertainty with the doctor who evaluated him for assisted suicide.
“I knew what I was allowed. I knew what was covered. I said, ‘Now everything’s up in the air, and it’s the unknown.’ I am not considered a person with a disability, yet I have a disability.”
Canadian law allows people with nonterminal illnesses to seek assisted suicide, provided their medical condition is “grievous and irremediable.” The law requires two doctors to assess and approve assisted suicide requests.
One doctor has already approved Landry’s request, reportedly knowing that it came out of fear of poverty rather than a medical condition, the Daily Mail reported. According to Landry, this doctor “said that he knows he has admitted MAID to people based on poverty but they didn’t tell him.”
Landry is awaiting approval from a second doctor. If the second doctor does not approve, he can seek a different opinion.
Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care specialist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, told the Daily Mail that the Canadian government has “literally made it easier for people with disabilities to die with dignity through MAID than live with dignity through access to housing, income support, food security, and medication coverage.”
Dosani called for a temporary halt to the further expansion of assisted suicide and increased social support.
In March 2023, Canada will allow mental health patients with no physical ailments to seek doctor-assisted suicide.
Critics include Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, who has said the law is “morally depraved,” the Catholic Register reported.
“In six years, Canada has gone from totally banning euthanasia to one of the most permissive euthanasia regimes in the world. And even more access could be coming, including allowing ‘mature minors’ to request it,” he told the Oct. 29 White Mass for doctors and other medical professionals at Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Catholic dioceses are taking part in the “No Options, No Choice” advocacy movement to encourage provincial governments to commit more funding for palliative care, mental health, and social and housing programs so that Canadians don’t feel pressured into assisted suicide.
The Society of Canadian Psychiatry has called for a delay in the expansion of assisted suicide to those suffering from mental illness, saying a consultation and safety review is necessary.
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