Canadians react to expanded access to assisted dying with relief, anger
According to Statistics Canada, there were 5,631 cases of MAID reported in Canada in 2019. (file photo)
TORONTO -- For more than three years, Cheryl Romaire has suffered from chronic inflammation in her spinal cord.
The 44-year-old mother of two told CTV National News that the inflammation has caused a constant "burning, electrical, icy pain" in her back from which she can get no relief.
"I had two babies with no drugs and no epidural. I breathed through both of those, and this is worse," Romaire said.
Romaire applied for a medically assisted death in 2019, but was rejected because her natural death wasn't reasonably foreseeable.
Now she will likely qualify, after the Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to expand access to medical assistance in dying (MAID).
Under Bill C-7, intolerably suffering Canadians who are not near the natural end of their lives now have the right to seek medical assistance in dying. That will also eventually include people suffering solely from grievous and irremediable mental illnesses.
"Finally. Finally I can see an end to this," Romaire said. "I am ready. My family is ready."
For Canadians who are near the natural end of life, the expanded bill relaxes some of the rules for getting an assisted death, including the requirement to give final consent immediately before the procedure, as well as the 10-day minimum wait after being approved before receiving the procedure.
Canadians not near death will still face some hurdles.
They will have a minimum 90-day period for assessments of their requests for an assisted death, and they'll have to be made aware of all alternatives, including counselling. They will also have to be able to give final consent immediately before receiving the procedure.
However, there are concerns from racialized and disabled communities that expanding access may pressure Canadians into seeking medically assisted deaths because of inadequate social supports.
"It's a lot cheaper for the government to offer medical aid and dying than to offer the services people with disabilities need to live full lives," Jewelles Smith, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said in an interview from B.C.
Some mental health professionals are also angry about the expanded access.
John Maher, a psychiatrist from Barrie, Ont., called expanding access to MAID "the moral scandal of the century."
He told CTV National News that the upcoming rules that could allow medical assistance in dying solely because of a mental illness don't take into account that those suffering from severe illness may not be capable of making the best decision for themselves.
"Last week I had a patient in her 30s who refused treatment who wants MAID. This is a young woman, who will get better who literal has --she's in her 30s -- she has at least 50 years of life left," Maher said.
While those suffering from mental illness will have to wait two years to gain access to MAID, the federal government has committed to setting up an expert panel to advise on the safeguards and protocols that should apply to those with mental illnesses.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 5,631 cases of MAID reported in Canada in 2019, accounting for 2 per cent of all deaths in the country.
The agency reports that this represents an increase of 26 per cent over 2018 numbers, with all provinces experiencing a steady yearly increase in the number of cases of MAID since it was first implemented into law in 2016.
With files from The Canadian Press