Canada should rethink how much it wants to expand MAiD

We might need more care and less MAiD

a medical professional wearing a white coat and putting on gloves
PHOTO: cottonbro studio / Pexels

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

Content warning: ableism, assisted dying.

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) has caused remarkable distress for disabled people since it was implemented in Canada in 2016. Despite concerns over inadequate medical support resulting in assisted dying, the policy is intended to expand and include more categories of eligible candidates. For instance, the government wants to include those “whose sole underlying conditions are mental disorders” as well as “mature minors.” Medical professionals have voiced that the healthcare system may not be ready for this due to underfunded palliative care and “a lack of public education on suicide prevention.” As a result, the change that was set to be in place this coming March has been pushed back to a later date that’s yet to be announced. If and when this change occurs, it must follow a substantial reform of our medical system.

The concern with MAiD’s expansion is that many will be offered assisted dying in place of proper medical care. Or, that they will eventually consider MAiD because of previous failures in their care. Everyone deserves to die with dignity, but investing in MAiD before fixing our already broken medical system will likely cause unnecessary and untimely deaths. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities deserve to have all options exhausted before resorting to assisted dying, but this isn’t happening. Patients face access barriers such as dismissive doctors, long wait times, and treatments that don’t fall under their Medical Services Plan (MSP). Many want to live, but are not being offered sufficient care from our healthcare system — this is where our attention should be turning towards. 

The expansion of MAiD has also sparked concerns from disability justice advocates. 53 disability and human rights organizations signed a letter to David Lametti, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, calling for the government to make MAiD unavailable to people who are not terminally ill. According to these advocates, “As a country we cannot provide state-assisted death to people who are not terminally ill, without ensuring a legislated right to a decent life for all.” They’re right. 

That’s not to mention the fact that doctors are now “encountering patients who cite poverty as the primary driver for their wish to die” — despite those same MAiD representatives saying that “nobody is getting approved for assisted death due to housing.” It is time for MAiD advocates to acknowledge that there may be some unintended consequences to proposed policy changes. This is what disability advocates are warning against. The lack of financial support in place for disabled individuals results in a situation that Al Mills from Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region describes asa prescription for poverty.” In other words, it’s easier for the medical system to offer MAiD than it is to undergo reforms that address access and funding issues. 

If the Canadian government actually cares about helping chronically ill and disabled people, it needs to invest in better long-term and palliative care, and make disability assistance a living wage. As of 2022, BC’s Persons with Disabilities (PWD) program offers around $16,300 yearly to its recipients. This is nearly $10,000 below Canada’s poverty rate. Providing MAiD without improving the living conditions of disabled people is not a solution. Instead, it will exacerbate existing inequalities without ever addressing the reasons that may lead to someone’s need for assisted dying.