MAID: Mad, Appalled, and Icked-out with Democracy
“If you were interested, you could just die. We could even help you.”
These paraphrased words are what veteran and former Paralympian Christine Gauthier heard after calling Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) after asking to have a wheelchair ramp installed in her home. Well, what the caseworker really said was, “Well, you know that we can assist you with assisted dying now if you'd like,” but it holds the same meaning.
Gauthier permanently injured her spine and knees back in 1989 after falling into a hole in the ground while doing a training obstacle course. After asking the VAC to provide her with a home wheelchair ramp for the past five years, Gauthier was complaining about her persistent pain to her caseworker. It was then that she was offered assisted suicide, going so far as to offer Gauthier the suicide equipment to use at home. Gauthier told CTV news that, at the moment, all she could think was, “you're going to be helping me to die, but you won't help me to live?”
After conducting an investigation into the workings of the VAC, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay discovered that there were four other instances of offers of assisted suicide just like Gauthier’s. In a press conference conducted after the revelations, MacAulay apologized profusely for the offers of assisted suicide as a solution to veterans’ suffering and promised to conduct better training for the VAC staff: "We are following up with investigations, we are changing protocols to ensure what should seem obvious to all of us, that it is not the place of Veterans Affairs Canada … to offer them medical assistance in dying as a matter of course."
But where did these assisted suicide laws even come from? Doesn’t this all sound a little too Orwellian to be true?
Up until 2015, the Canadian legal view on assisted suicide was that “Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code says that everyone who aids or abets a person in committing suicide commits an indictable offence, and s. 14 says that no person may consent to death being inflicted on them.” (Supreme Court of Canada)
In the 2015 case of Carter v. Canada, Carter, the defendant, was fighting these laws because they criminalised euthanasia. Carter viewed this as an infringement on her rights as a Canadian citizen because as an individual with a fatal neurodegenerative disease, it was illegal for her to pursue the only option that would allow her to die with dignity: medically assisted suicide.
After hearing Carter’s testimony, the court sided with the defendant, stating that preventing Carter from assisted suicide was a violation of section seven of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (everyone has the right to life, liberty and security) and was not justified under section one of the Charter (individual freedoms fall into the limit set by the law to ensure a free and democratic society).
After the trial, the Supreme Court allotted approximately one year, June 6, 2016, to create a new law legalizing doctor-assisted suicide. This law was soon known as MAID: Medical Assistance in Dying.
After MAID was introduced in 2016, amendments were introduced to the law on October 5th, 2020, laying down eligibility criteria for those seeking assisted suicide. These changes were based on negative feedback from over 300 000 surveyed citizens and experts, along with the response elicited by the Superior Court of Québec's 2019 Truchon decision in which it declared the previous criterion for the law “unconstitutional.”
The new criteria created stipulate that one’s natural time of death does not have to be perceivable to qualify for the benefits of MAID. The new eligibility criteria for MAID also include the following, taken directly from the government of Canada’s official website:
To qualify for MAID, you must be 18 years of age or older and have decision-making capacity. You must be eligible for publicly funded health care services. You must make a voluntary request that is not the result of external pressure. You must give informed consent to receive MAID, meaning that the person has consented to receive MAID after they have received all information needed to make this decision. You must have a serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability (excluding a mental illness until March 17, 2024.) You must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability. Finally, you must have enduring and intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated under conditions the person considers acceptable.
It’s interesting to note that up until December of 2022, one was able to attain eligibility for MAID as long as one was suffering from mental illness. Even if nothing else was wrong with you and mental illness was your sole ailment, you would automatically qualify. But, as seen in the eligibility criterion, one will be eligible for MAID on the sole basis of mental illness as of March 17th of next year.
As a society, we are constantly looking for an easy solution. And we’ve found one. There are those who proclaim its praises and others who look on, horrified. But this is the world we live in. O Canada. Our home and native land.