It has been disconcerting to watch the process of Bill C7 being advanced and passed. We’re concerned about what this could mean for the devaluation of disabled people’s lives in Canada. The Bill must be scrutinized relative to Canada’s commitments to the Human Rights Declaration, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We believe such a review questions and deeply challenges Bill C7, which extends access to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) to include people whose medical conditions may not cause their reasonably foreseeable natural death. While likely not intended, the Bill could be construed to imply that disabled lives are expendable. Of course, this idea is absolutely unacceptable, but advancing a Bill that could end such lives or be construed to suggest that these lives are not worth living, devalues disabled bodies and minds. Instead, heightened focus on sufficient resources to support people to live their lives in ways that promote quality on their terms, needs to be our national focus and priority.
In the face of supporting efforts to die with dignity, concern abounds that disabled people have been denied access to living with dignity, including sufficient supports and resources that allow them to thrive in community. Bill C7 shifts us from a focus on inclusive opportunity and support. Concern is further amplified as persons with disabilities who already are experiencing marginalization have been pushed toward the brink as they have faced isolation at new levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than a focus on ending life, now is the time to enhance our national conversation about how people with disabilities can have greater agency and options to decide what they need and how they want to live their lives. The statement from this amendment indicating that persons with disabilities “choose MAID as a response to intolerable suffering that cannot be alleviated by means acceptable to them” is heavily open to interpretation. Bill C7 is viewed as a striking contradiction to how Canada promotes itself on the international stage – a country where human rights are protected, and principles of equality and equity are at the heart of our collective belief systems.
So, what is next after passing Bill C7? Our collective response to this question requires deep soul searching as a nation. If we stand still on this bill, we risk obscuring the core of what we stand for; that is, disabled life reflects the sacredness of life itself; it is NOT life less worth living. Who should and should not be allowed to decide who takes a life? We need to ask such critical questions. In light of Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Bill C7 reminds us that we have a long way ahead to achieve disability rights and justice. We call for a critical reconsideration of Bill C7, and a more just approach that supports people’s access to a dignified life rather than a focus on MAiD as a pathway to death.
- Yahya El-Lahib is a long-time Disability Activist and Associate Professor with the Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary. He is co-Editor of the Routledge Handbook of Disability Activism”
- Kathleen Sitter is a disability scholar and the Canadian Research Chair in Multisensory Storytelling in Research and Knowledge Translation at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on accessibility and life-stage transitions
- David Nicholas is a disability scholar and Professor at the University of Calgary. His research addresses transition and employment as well as family considerations related to disability.
- Dorothy Badry, PhD, MSW, RSW is a disability scholar and mother of an adult daughter with health and developmental disabilities. She is co-author of Decolonising Justice for Aboriginal youth with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) (2020). Routledge, Australia and co-editor of the Youth in Care Chronicles (2020)
- Amber Young is a Doctoral Student with the faculty of Social work, University of Calgary.
- Noah Derkat, April Jordan & Mary Fiakpui are undergraduate and graduate students with the Faculty of social Work, University of Calgary.