In the last eight years, Canada has expanded its medical assistance in dying (MAID) laws to be among the most permissible in the world. As a result, the number of individuals dying by euthanasia or assisted suicide in Canada has skyrocketed.
Euthanasia occurs when a medical professional intentionally ends the life of a patient, such as through lethal injection, while assisted suicide occurs when a medical professional helps a patient commit suicide, such as by prescribing or providing a lethal dose of medication for the patient to take. In Canada, the vast majority (99.9 percent) of those who receive medical assistance in dying end their lives through euthanasia.
Canada did not always permit this practice. Just one decade ago, the Criminal Code of Canada defined any assistance in dying as culpable homicide. This changed drastically after a 2015 Supreme Court ruling resulted in the passage of Bill C-14 into law in 2016. As a result of this law, Canadians over the age of 18 with an irreversible and serious condition, and whose death was “reasonably foreseeable” could qualify for a medically assisted death.
But then, the government went further.
A new law passed in 2021 which now permits any Canadian aged 18 and older who has a serious and irreversible condition to qualify for medically assisted death – even if their condition or ailment will not lead to a “reasonably foreseeable” death. This means that those with a disability or a mental disorder could legally request to be killed by a medical professional.
Although Canada’s Parliament extended the delay on offering medical assistance in dying to those whose sole underlying medical condition is a mental disorder until March 2024, it is clear that Canada’s laws are on a trajectory toward inflicting even more pain on families and communities throughout the country.
Consider that in 2021, the deaths of more than 10,000 people, or 3.3 percent of all the deaths in Canada, were caused by euthanasia or assisted suicide. From 2016 to 2021, the number of people receiving medical assistance in dying increased tenfold.
In recent years, troubling reports of individuals receiving or being offered medical assistance in dying, have surfaced, highlighting the Canadian government’s failure to provide adequate social support and treatments for those with chronic conditions under its universal, publicly-funded health care system.
Roger Foley, who suffers from cerebellar ataxia and has been bedridden for six years while requiring around-the-clock assistance, filed a lawsuit alleging he was pressured by hospital staff to end his life.
“They asked if I wanted an assisted death. I don’t,” Foley said in a November 2022 interview with the New York Post. “I was told that I would be charged $1,800 per day [for hospital care]. I have $2 million worth of bills. Nurses here told me that I should end my life. That shocked me.”
Sophia, a 51-year-old woman in Ontario, was diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity. She was unable to work and barely able to survive on her $1,169 per month disability stipend. Her condition causes debilitating symptoms, such as nausea and severe headaches, when exposed to common chemicals, such as laundry detergent or cigarette smoke. Sophia begged for better living conditions from the government for two years. Desperate and unable to secure affordable housing that would have helped her live a more comfortable life, Sophia chose to die a medically-assisted death.
When retired corporal and former paralympic athlete, Christine Gauthier, was trying to have a wheelchair lift installed in her home, a Veterans Affairs official offered her medical assistance in ending her life. Testifying before the House of Commons veterans affairs committee, Gauthier said, “I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you medical assistance in dying.”
And in October 2022, the fashion chain La Maison Simons released a commercial titled “All Is Beauty” romanticizing medically-assisted death. The ad depicted the final days of 37-year-old Jennyfer Hatch, who was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The video glorifying Hatch’s decision to end her life received over 1 million views before it was removed after news surfaced that Hatch didn’t want to die. In an interview with CTV, in which Hatch used a pseudonym, she indicated that she had been unable to find proper treatment and care for her rare disease.
“I feel like I’m falling through the cracks so if I’m not able to access health care, am I then able to access death care?” Hatch said. “And that that’s what led me to look into MAID.”
As Pope Francis said on July 26, 2022 during his Apostolic Journey to Canada, “We need to learn how to listen to the pain of those who, in our crowded and depersonalized cities, often silently cry out: ‘Don’t abandon us!’ It is also the plea of the elderly who risk dying alone at home or in a nursing home. Of patients who, in place of affection, are administered death.”
Canadian officials should heed the words of Pope Francis as they promote these radical medical assistance in dying laws and deliberate on expanding such measures to include “mature minors.”
The Hippocratic Oath, which enshrined the ethical standards for medical professionals in the 5th century BC and is still used by some medical schools today, is clear: “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.”
Canada’s medical assistance in dying laws rob patients of the support and care they deserve; the Canadian government must focus its efforts on enhancing the quality of citizens’ lives – rather than legalizing ways to make death more accessible.