My speaking note for Canary in a Coalmine side event for COSP15
Thank you. It is an honour to speak here today. We have very little time and so much to discuss so I will get right to the point.
Canada is not as advertised.
The myths and marketing that make up Canada’s international image insulate the Canadian government from the scrutiny and criticism its expansion of assisted suicide warrants.
Support for MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) relies heavily on Canada’s reputation as a champion of human rights and assumption that the external enabling conditions necessary for supporting autonomy exist here.
The fight around MAiD is one for robust autonomy but not as the proponents of MAiD suggest. In reality the same institutions and professions that regularly deny us autonomy over our lives, disingenuously pretend to champion it over our deaths. We urge you to ask why.
In their rhetoric the proponents of Canada’s assisted suicide argue that the state should not impede anyone’s right to choose to die.
There are three deliberate falsehoods in their assertion.
The first is that MAiD is a negative freedom – meaning that the state agree not to interfere in a person’s ending of their own life.
In truth, MAiD is a positive freedom. The state is providing death as a service.
This obfuscation of the state’s role in causing the death, not merely failing to inhibiting it, contributes to the lack of critical examination it receives. As a result, even the people who would oppose capital punishment in instances where the murderer confessed and requested it, remain silent about MAiD.
MAiD is fully covered under Canada’s healthcare system.
This is significant given what is not covered under Canada’s healthcare, the barriers to accessing life-sustaining treatments and how ableism, racism, poverty and other intersecting oppressions impact medical diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.
And it is especially significant since unlike other countries where euthanasia is legalized, Canada does not require that alternative options be made available.
Which leads us to the second falsehood – the claim that MAiD exists within a framework of real choice.
Canada’s universal healthcare system is in fact not universal.
It covers some parts of the body and not others, some aspects of healthcare and not others.
The ableist bias also extends to how it is practiced and delivered as well as in the use of the Quality Adjusted Life Years formula.
Significant variations in availability of care and coverage occur not only from province to province but urban versus rural areas and regionally from north versus south.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, ranked Canada 10th out of 11 well-off nations in terms of public spending on health as a percentage of GDP.
30 percent of health spending in Canada is private.
In 1976, Canada had 6.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people.
By 2019 that number had shrunk to 2.5.
Now, our chronically starved healthcare system is in crisis.
One of the people involved in crafting Canada’s healthcare rationing protocols, Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge, has argued that parents of disabled children should be given the right to request their child be euthanized. He is also responsible for establishing the Canadian Medical Association’s Department of Ethics.
Election campaigns are run on dehumanizing people with mental illness and promises to round up and re-institutionalize disabled people who are homeless.
Disabled people, especially those who are Indigenous or Black, are killed by police conducting “wellness checks.”
To this day, a significant number of disabled people under the age of 65, are forced into long term care due to absence of affordable and accessible housing and the non-existence of community support. This is what led a disabled man named Sean Tagert to apply for and receive MAiD.
Canada is also a country of great wealth inequality.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer 2020 report, the top 1% of Canadian households hold 25.6% of total wealth in the country while the bottom 40 percent possess roughly 1.2 percent.
41 percent of people living at low income level are disabled.
Disability benefits vary by province but all are far below the poverty line – a poverty line that, according to recent research, has an ableist bias and ignores the increased costs associated with living as a disabled person in an ableist society.
This means many disabled people regularly experience periods of hunger, go without medications or other essentials of life.
In Canada, the state provision of death exists in a landscape of denial of rights, care and deliberate deprivation and therefore acts as a coercive power against disabled people instead of enabling our autonomy or providing us with choice.
And this leads us to the third and final falsehood in their argument. MAID for those not near end of life is not available to just “anyone.” It is available solely to disabled people.
Ableism is embedded in Canada’s history and has been codified and institutionalized into every aspect of our society.
The ideological beliefs and systems that supported and arose out of colonialism and white supremacy, including eugenics, never ended. They were just rebranded.
The elimination of the end of life requirement and broad expansion of MAiD depends on a belief that Canada’s institutions can and will guarantee the necessary, consistent, universal, and unbiased level of transparent, accountable delivery and oversight, within a society where the provision of real options to ensure that euthanasia isn’t the only way to escape socially constructed suffering. A guarantee that not a single instance of abuse or error will end the life of a disabled person who would have wished to live if proper supports and real choice had been provided.
Canada can not make such a guarantee.
Next week is the one year anniversary of the heat dome in my province of British Columbia. 619 people, mostly disabled, died in one week due to policies that did not allow them to escape the heat. Some, who lived minutes from a hospital, died waiting hours for an ambulance. One year later, we are still waiting for those policies to change.
Canada is not as advertised.
Thank you for your time.