DAVID W. SHANNON • Guest Opinion
Since 1992, Dec. 3 has been the United Nations-sanctioned International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year, this day has much significance for me and the community where I found membership almost 40 years ago — the world of equality-seeking disabled persons.
This year, the federal government continues to fast-track Bill C-7, changes to the Medical Assistance in Dying legislation (MAiD). It has set a chill through our community.
To be clear right from the start, I understand that many people, when faced with a terminal illness or who are near death, want the ability to have a medically assisted death. So, it is not MAiD per se that makes me troubled.
Bill C-7 goes beyond a good death — it merely offers death, and this is where I take exception.
With the proposed legislation, anyone who is disabled could decide to have a medically assisted death at any time they choose.
Take the word “disabled” out of that last sentence and replace it with any other group. Is there any ethnic, gender, race or age group to which it would be acceptable to offer medically assisted death? Should death be tolerable simply because someone is part of a certain group? If it is not OK for members of any other group to kill themselves, why is it alright for people with disabilities to do so?
If you do not have a disability, I want you to know what this proposed legislation means to me.
When I was 18, in first-year university, I sustained a spinal cord injury in a rugby scrum that resulted in quadriplegia. It took me years to recover. Although I was never suicidal in acute or rehab hospital, I know of many people who were. If this proposed legislation had existed back then, I’m sure a doctor would have offered me the opportunity to die. My life would have been erased. Some good doctor would have gone to bed that night filled with smug righteousness, and sure she/he had done the right thing. I’m here to tell you this would have been a lie.
What offends me most about Bill C-7 is that there is an implicit licence to promote death. And I ask, why is there not the promotion to pursue one’s autonomy? When someone is first injured, they are compromised. They need to know there are supports available, that life can be fantastic, not coerced to leave their life and loved ones behind.
Ironically, while I lay in a hospital bed, alone, unable to move, hooked up to machines, recovering from surgery after surgery, that’s when I really fought to live. I made a promise to myself that I would live life to the fullest.
And truth be told, I have accomplished a lot in my life. I’ve crossed our great country by the power of my wheelchair — coast to coast. I’ve jumped out of an airplane at over 25,000 feet. I’ve made it to the North Pole and planted an accessible parking sign. I’ve written a book, performed in plays and on TV. I’ve received my law degree and been a Human Rights Commissioner. And I am an Order of Ontario and Order of Canada recipient. I’ve loved and been loved. My proudest accomplishment is that I lived.
Since COVID-19 hit, people with disabilities have faced the realization that there is triage protocol policy in many provinces/territories — a medical practice that will treat people without disabilities over people with disabilities if there was a shortage of medication, medical staff, medical equipment or hospital space. No justice. No analysis. Just a meat chart that says, “If you are disabled, we will let you die first.”
Eldercide has taken place in long-term care facilities. In many cases, seniors were not even taken to the hospital when sick with the virus. And now we face medical assistance in dying. There is a cultural continuum towards acceptance of the demise of people with disabilities. We are told by our society over and over again that we are not of value. Our life is just not worth living.
If Bill C-7 passes, words will be enshrined in law, signed by the Parliament of Canada, essentially saying, “Go ahead. Kill yourself. We will help because living with a disability must be totally unbearable.” Bill C-7 introduces legislation that will violate my human rights and the rights of all people with disabilities. Yet no one seems to care.
I want equality in my world and in my place in Canada. How will I ever be equal if people think I should be dead? Over 6.2 million Canadians (22 per cent of the population) have a disability. Should the shining beacon of their lives and the love they give be snuffed out? Life stories lost like tears in the rain.
David W. Shannon is a barrister and solicitor in Thunder Bay, Ont.