AN IMPRESSION OF THE MEDIA SCRUM AFTER THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION TO STRIKE DOWN BANS ON ASSISTED SUICIDE IN CANADA
The following is an impressionistic piece I wrote as I was watching the news scrum out of the Supreme Court of Canada yesterday, in reaction to the news of ‘legalization’ of assisted suicide.
‘The assisted dying bill will allow people to live longer’ – Steven Fletcher
‘Canada joins a long list of countries which have legalized assisted dying’ – lawyer for BCCLA
‘A person does not have to be dying to request death.’ CBC reporter, approx. 10am Feb 6, 2015.
On February 6, 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court did something by their own authority that added our nation to the list of countries that have access to assisted suicide. They struck down existing prohibitions against the act of a doctor killing their patient, and created a legal vacuum. Many of the euthanasia enthusiasts are overjoyed about this, because now they have their way, and at no cost to themselves. The aftermath is left to the disabled community and those silent opponents who are now doubtless wondering what just happened.
MP Steven Fletcher has gone on record, as of Feb 6, 2015, that there needs to be a close examination of what the implications are for striking down Canada’s prohibitions against assisted suicide. This statement is more than a little self-serving, and disingenuous. Fletcher introduced a private member’s bill to legalize assisted suicide last year, so he cannot say he does not have a bias in this issue.
Talking about implications after the fact means we will never talk about implications, particularly since we should have been talking about implications before this. More worryingly, Fletcher says there should be criminal code provisions to prevent abuse, after the fact. Issues of abuse, of patient protection and of safeguards will never be discussed, because they were not discussed before this. I will return to this point.
One commentator said, (without a source), that a ‘vast majority of Canadians support assisted dying.’ And I think Fletcher also said this. This is only one poll. How would we know if this is going to work, given that this is the first time? What happens if we find that it is a bad idea? How do we move back the legislation? How do we look at polls for those who have come out against the law? How does one refuse to be killed?
Remember, doctors in Quebec and Ontario do not have a right of conscience. They must push a patient along to another doctor if they disagree. There is no discussion to bring the idea to a halt. So if a person is being abused, we have no way of stopping that and that is an abandoned safeguard. This is despite the ruling saying that doctors did have a right of conscience. That there are no conscience rights in Quebec or Ontario surely creates a conflict.
This legislation ignores legal limits to asking for death. The cutoff is age 18 apparently, with a person being of independent mind. Except that to refuse to allow someone access to death because of their age sets up a Charter challenge on the basis of age discrimination.
Steven Fletcher said this is ‘…an existential issue that affects everyone alive in Canada today.’ This should have been said before the fact. This was not done; those who are for euthanasia are probably happy they finally got their way. Certainly every Canadian is effected, particularly those who are disabled or seen as a drag on the system.
Fletcher says we need better palliative and home care; at a time when there are cutbacks and slow-gos for medical care in Ontario, this is interesting. There are indications that Ontario is going to have its credit rating downgraded again. That means we will have fewer resources to put to medical care, and where are we going to save money?
Fletcher also said that prior to this law, ‘Canadians were not allowed to make the best decisions for themselves.’ So offing myself medically is the best decision that I can make? And all the previous decisions were not good decisions? This viewpoint assumes that any decision toward life is a wrong decision, and this unmasks the bedrock ethos of the euthanasia enthusiasts.
Sadly, not everyone in Canada had a chance or choice to talk about the decision; it has by definition been imposed upon them by a court of law. Youth growing up now will live in a Canada where this option lurks in the background such that they can take the decision. Whether or not someone like a bullied teen can ask for this remains to be seen.
The question is whether this wrong decision is based on someone else’s suffering or on economics and allocation of care…
As of 10:20am in the media scrum there were no mention of groups against physician assisted dying. Even more bizarre: people are happy that others can die. I have heard the word overjoyed used. I think I have also heard the word celebrate used as well.
We are couching this as a right, but what happens if you do not get a choice? What happens if you are denied mediation or care but are offered death instead? We cannot say that this will not happen. Physician assisted suicide is couched as the only humane and dignified death is to have death imposed on you. Palliative care is by definition not dignified on this basis.
Still have not seen anyone against the issue speaking to the media.
Why is this? Because disabled people were already blocked from the debate. The media made this a foregone conclusion. The disabled are ignored completely for comment, but the Supreme Court said that the disabled are the focus of this legislation. So we have another structured contradiction.
Kay Carter’s daughter Lee Carter was speaking with her husband and family members at the scrum. Her mother, now deceased, went to Switzerland to die. So why are we allowing a dead person to dictate death to the rest of us who are alive?
This ruling is designed to help those to die who have issues with disease, dying and disability, according to the Supreme Court decision. So there we have it. People with disability are expected to ask for death by definition. This is a dangerous thing to say.
Ironic that dead people are dictating what is happening to us now. This means that people with no legal standing are the ones who are dictating what the living are going to have happen to them. Kay Carter is dead; so is Sue Rodriguez. Why are we allowing dead people to make policy?
I am waiting to hear about those cases where people are killed against their will, or as an example of abuse, or as an example of medical neglect, discrimination or coercion.
The assumption is that death before this decision has been undignified. So physician assisted suicide is the only ‘rational’ decision that someone can make; anyone who chooses otherwise will make the euthanasia enthusiasts look bad. Especially if we think that those who are living with disabilities are living examples of how we don’t need assisted suicide to live well…
Lee Carter’s husband Hollis Johnson said ‘We need to pay a little less attention to the anecdotal evidence that is hyperbolic.’ This statement is self-serving and illustrates the patronizing tone of euthanasia enthusiasts, once they think they have their way. My own concerns and evidence are ‘anecdotal, hyperbolic evidence?’ What if it is not? This came from a family member of a person who fought for the death and died in Switzerland. That is a hyperbolic statement in itself.
Disabled people against the issue were ignored by the media. Once more, disabled people are downplayed and ignored. Even after this celebratory decision comes down, nothing has changed for the disabled. One commentator said that assisted suicide would be ‘an option taken by a small number of people.’ Palliative care is a number one choice, ignoring that palliative care is not taken advantage of by people – because they cannot.
The people interviewed who trumpeted the decision were all selfish. It was all about them, and their supporters. The disabled and those who are in danger were completely ignored. All Quebecers have a right to medically assisted death, and the question is if this holds true even for those who do not want to die. That is the issue being ignored in this presentation…
Right and entitlement to end suffering and avoid bad death. These are the words of privilege. The marginalized were not asked what they thought. Those who have been denied care and who are marginalized in care are ignored.
The impossibility of altering the decision to present and insert new safeguards
Another commentator (who was speaking in French and I did not get his name) said that now the Supreme Court will test each individual law as cases arise. He said, and this was interesting, that ‘…any legislature cannot impose a broader restriction than what the Supreme Court has laid out today.’ That would include inserting checks and barriers. Safeguards cannot be imposed on the law after this, because that would curtail the rights and freedoms of those who want death for themselves or others. So there will be no safeguards now introduced if they are not in the law already; they will simply be challenged piecemeal as they come up – and be struck down thereby.
That is why disabled people will not be safe in Canada: the safeguards we have been promised are non-existent. We cannot introduce restraints to make people safer. So if safeguards are not in place now, they will create an undue limit on the issue, and that will not happen. Those who are vulnerable before the law was passed are vulnerable now.
This celebration of death left an odd impression. For over half an hour I did not see anyone interviewed who was against the issue. I saw five different people – all for it – who were interviewed. Not one of them outlined or anticipated problems.
So problems do not count and will not happen. It would be illegitimate to impose restrictions to make the right to medically assisted death an illusion. The previous sentence is indicative of the lack of power that the court now has. The court cannot impose limits or restrictions. So if something happens in a case by case basis, then we cannot put these together as a legal precedent.
Amy Hasbrouck was interviewed; disability is not important to talk about. The first brake removed to restrict the law to those who are dying; those who are disabled are allowed as well. There are no limits.
Disabled people are alarmed. 20 years of experience …the court based decisions on findings of the trial judge. These were not dealt with in appeals court.
We should be very concerned in the midst of this discussion of patient autonomy and choice. The extreme individualist view ignores social effects and causes in a very narrow-minded way. Consider Amy Hasbrouck’s response that 3 suicides happened recently in Quebec. One man forced by change in regulations to move from an apartment into a one room nursing home, and so he killed himself. The decision to move him was not based on his disability but was based on public policy. Another man killed himself because he could not get autonomy and better care. He had no options to hire assistants and this was structured into his care. So there are social pressures against those who are disabled to kill themselves. We can be sure that those who are celebrating today will not be mourning those deaths tomorrow.
The lack of prior experience in Canada with assisted suicide indicates we will have problems. The economic structure of medical care in Canada means that cost cutting measures will inevitably include offers or pressures of death. We have seen how patients in Ontario are denied medications or medical care on various grounds; does this mean we will now see people being denied care and offered death instead?
Disabled people have to deal with a system not geared toward independent living. Amy Hasbrouck said that, instead of looking at access to care as a systemic problem, we tend to look at this issue as an individual problem. She said that ‘we try to change the person rather than changing the system.’ We marginalize the powerless, and expect them to overcome their own powerlessness on their own with their own resources. So the problem is a personal problem, not a systemic problem.
This is called blaming the victim.
Christian Debray said that limits already in place would have to be effective, because, after all, no-one breaks speed limits on the highway. We don’t take speeding seriously. We also don’t take the issue of effective safeguards seriously. Since disabled people were frozen out of talks about medical dying in Quebec in 2013, we can assume that disabled people will be frozen out of choices for their own medical care in 2016.
Wanda Morris said that Quebec did not have a problem finding a balance in euthanasia in a statement on CBC on Friday night. This is wrong, when we know that the disabled were frozen out of the discussions in 2013. The disabled had no voice, and were marginalized because they were disabled. Those who were against the issue were characterized as religious overall, and this was not true. There was no support offered for this position in the Quebec media, either.
Wanda Morris earlier said this wasn’t about allowing teens to commit suicide if they were depressed, on or about October 14, 2014 on Global TV. On February 6, 2015, Morris said it was a good thing that people who are suffering but not dying are able to access this. Like teenagers who were depressed. This contradictory thinking illustrates the fantastic notions that euthanasia enthusiasts hold in their minds.
When I was asking questions about this issue at a euthanasia enthusiasts’ event, Wanda Morris herself dismissed my concerns and stories as myths. So we can see that dismissal of real world problems is a technique used by those who want to impose death on others. I have called this in other places – social psychosis.
Even worse, Steven Fletcher cited Tracey Latimer. Why is this, considering that Tracey was murdered and her own father killed her? Latimer decided his own daughter should be dead and did everything he could to make that happen. And once that decision for death was made, nothing could stop him. We will see the same thing happen in medical care now.
People do not realize what a deep change this is. We will not have to spend money in a broke system to heal; assisted suicide will be cost savings. One writer said that people who are given the choice find their choices curtailed. We will not get freedom, we will find that our options narrow, based on discrimination and assumptions about what good care is and should be. Those who ignore or downplay problems will also ignore how people are dying, and that is a dangerous blind spot.
These are the impressions I had about the media scrum. The media were congratulatory about the issue to the point of mutual masturbation. They allowed for the notion that this was a better day for people who were dying and disabled, but ignored the disabled community and their very real concerns.
Remember the quotes at the beginning of the article:
The assisted dying bill will allow people to live longer – Steven Fletcher
One has to wonder how this is, given that the whole point of assisted suicide is to kill. The absurdity of this position was not commented on in the media.
Canada joins a long list of countries which have legalized assisted dying – lawyer for BCCLA
Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and the US are a long list of countries? This is classic hyperbole.
A person does not have to be dying to request death - CBC reporter, approx. 10am Feb 6, 2015.
That was a surprise even to me.And let’s not forget that Hitler legalised euthanasia in October 1939.
So now Canada has joined that list of countries that allows its citizens to be executed for the capital
crime of being disabled or being ill or too expensive; and we can be sure that, despite the assurances we
keep hearing, that things will not ultimately end well for disabled or dying Canadians.