OTTAWA – Nicole Gladu has no time to argue that she is a vulnerable person who needs protection from being forced to seek a medically assisted death.
The 75-year-old Quebecer uses a wheelchair because of post-polio syndrome, a degenerative disease that, for the past 25 years, has reactivated childhood scoliosis, weakening her muscles, distorting her body and making breathing difficult.
But she still lives independently in a 14th-floor apartment with a beautiful view and values her autonomy – including the right to seek medical help to end her suffering if she decides it has become unbearable.
Gladu is one of two Quebecers who have successfully challenged the constitutionality of the federal law’s provision that MAID may only be given to people whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable”.
As a result of the court ruling in their case, the Trudeau administration introduced Bill C-7 before the Senate to expand access to MAID for people who are not at the end of their lives.
Gladu rejects as paternalistic critics who argue that the bill leaves vulnerable people with disabilities open to be pressured to receive MAID, either directly or indirectly through social attitudes and a lack of support services.
“Vulnerability is a concept that is applied ad nauseam by paternalistic people in good health who stand in the way of MAID,” says Gladu.
She rejects the argument put forward by disability rights groups and confirmed by the majority of Conservative MPs that the bill sends a message that life with a disability is not worth living.
“My journey through life (75 years) proves that a handicap can inspire a person to exceed their limits.”
Gladu spoke to the Canadian press via email because she didn’t feel good enough for a phone interview.
Neither Gladu nor Jean Truchon, whose cerebral palsy had caused him to lose the use of all four limbs, were entitled to an assisted death as they did not near the end of their lives. They went to court to challenge the “foreseeable death” provision in federal law and a similar provision in Quebec law.
Last fall, Quebec Supreme Court Justice Christine Baudouin ruled out the foreseeable death requirement and the Quebec end of life requirement in violation of the couple’s charter of equal treatment under the law and the life, liberty and security of the person.
Bill C-7 is designed to bring federal law into line with this decision. It would override the foreseeable death requirement, but establish two lanes of eligibility for MAID: one with somewhat looser rules for those near death, and a second with stricter rules for those who are not.
Gladu says the bill is more or less in line with Baudouin’s decision, despite stating that evaluating MAID requests from people not near death would mean a brief 90-day delay.
The bill has sparked fierce objections from disability rights groups and conservative politicians who claim that people with debilitating disabilities are discriminated against, selected for MAID when they are not at the end of their lives, and thus effectively informed about their lives are not equal.
They argue that many people with disabilities are marginalized, living in poverty and without the support services that would make their lives more fulfilling. For such people, choosing MAID is not a real choice, they claim.
But Gladu does not fit that description – which partly explains Baudouin’s conclusion that every case must be judged on its merits, that blanket exclusion of people who are not at the natural end of their lives is a violation of their charter rights.
Gladu says she never missed anything that was necessary for a full life. In her youth, her father, a teacher, gave her books that became her “passport for traveling through life and expanded my imagination so that I could dream my life before I lived my dreams”.
Because of polio, which she developed when she was four, Gladu was initially homeschooled. But she eventually went to university, became a journalist, and worked abroad in Paris and then in New York, where she was press secretary for the United Nations, before returning to Quebec to retire.
“I am grateful that I retired on the 14th floor of a condo building that not only has all of the necessities but also has amazing river views that reflect the beauty of the sunsets,” she says.
“In my opinion, my atypical trip is proof of a very autonomous character that will culminate in death.”
Until the law is amended to abolish the end-of-life criterion, Baudouoin gave Gladu and Truchon and others in similar positions the right to seek individual judicial exemptions in order to receive MAID.
Truchon, 51, died in August with medical help.
Gladu hasn’t tried the procedure, but she says it reassures her that it is an option if her condition worsens.
Immediately after Baudouin’s decision, she said: “Now it is really a matter of personal choice. It is up to me or Mr. Truchon or other people like us to decide whether we prefer quality of life to quantity of life.” “”
This Canadian press report was first published on December 16, 2020.