Canada Extends Euthanasia to People with Disabilities

Less than five years after euthanasia was decriminalized in Canada, drastic changes are now being implemented. Euthanasia, referred to in Canadian legislation as “medical aid in dying” (MAID), will be extended to anyone with a serious and incurable condition who wishes to die.

On March 17, 2021, the substantial changes in Bill C-7, approved by the Federal Parliament last February, officially came into force, thereby significantly extending the practice of euthanasia.

Removing end-of-life criteria + proposing euthanasia to people with disabilities

First of all, the criterium of a “reasonably foreseeable death” has now been abolished. From a medical standpoint, the only requirement remaining is to have a serious and incurable illness and unbearable suffering (determined by the patient himself).

In practice, this means that anyone who is physically disabled or has a chronic illness is now eligible for euthanasia. In this respect, Canadian law is de facto comparable to “death-on-demand” for any sick person, and it compels medical professionals to comply with the patients’ requests.

For the moment, the new law does not include euthanasia for persons with mental illness, which in itself is currently “not considered as an illness, nor an affection nor a disability”. Nonetheless it will be subject to independent review in the coming weeks, thus indicating that this prospect has not been ruled out. In any event, extending euthanasia to those with mental illness is already planned for 2023.

Same day death: no reflection period

Secondly, when natural death is reasonably foreseeable, the new law has dispensed with the 10-day waiting period, between the time of the euthanasia request and the lethal injection. Therefore, as the collective movement of 888 physicians  laments: “under the new bill, an individual whose natural death is considered to be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ could be diagnosed, assessed and euthanized all in one day.” In other words, “your worst day could be your last day.”

Euthanasia on unconscious patients if previously requested

Thirdly, the law will now provide for euthanasia without contemporaneous consent. Thus, when one cannot express his/her final agreement (e.g., if unconscious) and if death is reasonably foreseeable, euthanasia may legally be practiced, whenever the patient has given advance directives to that effect, or whenever a self-administered lethal injection has failed.

UN experts warn of abuses

This rapid and substantial shift to extend euthanasia is diametrically opposed to providing adequate physical and psychological support for those who are disabled or chronically ill. As three United Nations experts recently pointed out, this growing trend towards euthanasia may exert pressure on those who are disabled and/or elderly to end their lives prematurely.

Finally, the Canadian parliament is already considering how this reform could possibly be extended even further. In the coming days euthanasia legislation will be focused on “the eligibility for mature minors, advance euthanasia directives, mental illness, palliative care and protecting Canadians with disabilities.”

Better support urgently needed for the most vulnerable

In their press release issued on March 19th, the citizens’ movement Living with Dignity and the collective of doctors against euthanasia insist that since euthanasia is wrongly considered as a palliative care, “we must work to promote customized care for all types of suffering”  by improving “mental health care, by providing assistance to those with disabilities (employment, housing, etc.), those with chronic disease, regardless of age, and by making healthcare and home assistance available, as well as offering support for family caregivers.”

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