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

OTTAWA – Those who support expanded access to medical assistance in the dying are doing so because they haven’t addressed the consequences of medical racism, a disability activist said Monday before the 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 commit suicide 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 have been killed by police should have received mental health and disability support.

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 employees making derogatory comments about her.

“I don’t want that 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 of eligibility – relaxation of some rules for those near 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 amendment that would include a “sunset clause” banning assisted death for anyone solely suffering from 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 on Monday that the focus should be on suicide prevention.

“This bill has to be stopped, otherwise 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 a potentially discriminatory effect on people with disabilities and the elderly People who are not at the end of their lives have.

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

It would also “run the risk of reinforcing (even inadvertently) abusive and alteristic assumptions about the value or quality of life of people with disabilities and elderly people with or without disabilities,” the letter says.

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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