New proposed assisted-dying regulation is ‘racist,’ says disability rights activist

OTTAWA – Those who support expanded access to medical assistance while dying are doing so because they haven’t addressed the consequences of medical racism, a disability activist said Monday before senators began debating the proposed legislation.

“Bill C-7 is an anti-working class, racist and diligent,” Sarah Jama of the Disability Justice Network in Ontario said at a virtual press conference.

“(The bill) makes it more accessible for people with intellectual disabilities to kill themselves as a treatment without making mental health support free.”

The Hamilton, Ontario community organizer, 26, who is black and uses a wheelchair, says racial and indigenous peoples in Canada who were killed by police should have received mental health and disability-related assistance.

She said they also suffer from racism in hospitals for seeking medical help. Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, died in a Joliette, Que. Hospital last September after filming staff making derogatory comments about her.

“I don’t want this in my future,” she said.

Bill C-7 would remove the requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to qualify for assisted death, but it also establishes two pathways for admission – relaxation of some rules for those close to death and imposition stricter conditions for those who don’t.

Jama, who appeared before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee examining the bill last week, questioned how extensively Justice Secretary David Lametti and others had consulted about how the bill would affect people with disabilities.

Jama said lawmakers are listening to assisted death advocacy groups she describes, who represent predominantly wealthier whites. She argues that they are pushing for expanded access to the procedure because they are afraid of living with a disability.

She has since said they have neglected the voices of people with disabilities who live in poverty, such as those who live in homeless camps in Hamilton.

“Many of the people he consulted were upper-middle-class whites, doctors and lawyers, and that is not representative of the disabled community,” she said.

Jama also raised concerns about a possible Senate change to include a “sunset clause” banning assisted death for anyone with solely mental illness, saying it could be viewed as a form of treatment without to make the treatment free of charge.

Inclusion Canada vice president Krista Carr told the press conference Monday that the focus should be on suicide prevention.

“This bill has to stop or people’s lives will end,” she said.

“It will end the lives of far too many disabled people who feel they have no other options.”

A letter sent to the Liberal government last week from three United Nations watchdogs including Gerard Quinn, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of People with Disabilities, stated that C-7 has potentially discriminatory effects on people with disabilities and the elderly Would have people who are not at the end of their lives.

If the law is passed, it will violate the right of people with disabilities to live, which is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the letter said.

It would also “run the risk of reinforcing (even inadvertently) age-related assumptions about the value or quality of life of people with disabilities and older people with or without disabilities,” the letter said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 8, 2021.

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This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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