If therapeutic homicide is going to be "on the menu" in our hospitals ...

On 15 January 2013, a Quebec panel of legal experts suggested that provincial law could frame assisted suicide as part of the continuum of care offered in palliative care settings.  Making assisted suicide a palliative care treatment option is a matter of national concern because other jurisdictions may adopt the practice.  The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), a national organization working for an accessible and inclusive Canada, encourages policy makers in the field of health care to consider the harms that will ensue if assisted suicide is reclassified as a “treatment”.  Today, CCD addresses two of the many possible harms that could result: abuse and the effect of assisted suicide on the practice of medical care vis-à-vis patients with disabilities.

While other countries have made the decision to allow assisted suicide, their records on preventing abuse offer little comfort to the people with disabilities who closely monitor assisted suicide practices globally.  Any provincial health system contemplating expanding its treatment regime would first need to develop safeguards that satisfy the concerns of the disability community about the potential for abuse.  The National Council on Disability has developed a list of components that should be included in a procedural safeguard.  To date, no jurisdiction has developed safeguards that are sufficiently robust to prevent abuse.  CCD, an intervener in the appeal of the Carter case, focussed on how legalized assisted suicide would infringe upon disabled Canadians’ security of the person rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Due to persistent stereotypes, people with disabilities encounter negative cultural attitudes when interacting with members of the medical profession.  We believe that the availability of euthanasia in hospital settings could worsen cultural attitudes about disability.  The day-to-day reality for many of us is that we need help when using the washroom, with eating, dressing and we have significant pain.  Losing control of these aspects of daily life is the rationale that some people have for seeking assisted suicide.  For many of us with disabilities, living with pain and having help with personal routines is an accepted part of reality; we treasure our lives and want to keep living and contributing.  CCD wonders how the practice of euthanasia would affect the ability of doctors and nurses to view patients with severe disabilities as contributing citizens rather than the next candidate for assisted suicide.