Paralympian trying to get wheelchair ramp says Veterans Affairs employee offered her assisted dying
A veteran and former Paralympian told a parliamentary committee that a caseworker from the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offered her medical assistance in dying (MAID), a week after the veterans affairs minister confirmed that at least four other veterans were offered the same thing.
Retired Cpl. Christine Gauthier, who has been trying to get a wheelchair ramp installed at her home for the past five years, testified on Thursday that a caseworker told her that they could give her assisted dying, even offering to supply the MAID equipment for her.
"I was completely shocked and in despair," she told CTV's Power Play on Friday. "It is remotely just what they're doing: exhausting us to the point of no return."
Gauthier said the offer for MAID came during a phone call with a VAC case worker where she was describing her deteriorating condition. In 1989, Gauthier suffered permanent damage to her knees and spine after jumping in a deep hole while training on an obstacle course.
"It was just getting too much and unbearable. And the person at VAC mentioned at that point, 'Well, you know that we can assist you with assisted dying now if you'd like.' And I was just shocked because I was like, 'Are you serious?' Like that easy, you're going to be helping me to die but you won't help me to live?" she said.
Gauthier, who competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games and the 2016 Invictus Games as a para-canoeist, told the committee she sent letters detailing her experiences to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay. A spokesperson for MacAulay said Veterans Affairs is taking the issue "very seriously," while adding that providing advice on MAID is "not a VAC service."
"Our employees have no role or mandate to recommend or raise it. Considerations for MAID are the subject of discussions between a patient and their primary care providers to determine appropriateness in each individual context," Erika Lashbrook Knutson, press secretary for MacAulay's office, said in a statement to CTV News on Friday.
MacAulay's office also told CTV News Veterans Affairs took actions to ensure this doesn't happen again, such as issuing a directive ordering all employees to "not provide advice or suggestions to Veterans on the issue of MAID" and implementing mandatory training.
When asked about Gauthier's experience being offered MAID, Trudeau called it "absolutely unacceptable."
"We are following up with investigations, we are changing protocols to ensure what should seem obvious to all of us, that it is not the place of Veterans Affairs Canada … to offer them medical assistance in dying as a matter of course," he told reporters in Vancouver on Friday.
"The issue of medical assistance in dying is a deeply personal one. It is a deeply difficult one for individuals and families to take on at an extraordinarily challenging moment in their lives. And something that we have to ensure is gotten right," Trudeau added.
AT LEAST FOUR INSTANCES OF MAID OFFERED TO VETERANS: MINISTER
Last week, MacAulay testified to a parliamentary committee that the department had found four instances of MAID being offered to veterans during an internal investigation that was prompted by reporting from Global News last summer.
"If any of the veterans in question are watching or listening right now, I am sorry. I am sorry you had to endure these appalling interactions and we are doing everything we can to ensure this never happens again," MacAulay told the committee on Nov. 24.
MacAulay said the four instances, which took place between 2019 and May 2022, were "all related to one single employee and it's not a widespread or a systemic issue," and added that the RCMP was also contacted for potential charges.
"We expect all Veterans Affairs Canada employees to interact with veterans with care, compassion and respect, and the actions of this one employee is simply disgusting," he said.
MacAulay's office said Gauthier's experience being offered MAID was not one of the four confirmed cases, but is being investigated.
"We are encouraging the individual (or anyone who has experienced a similar situation) to reach out to Veterans Affairs Canada or the Office of the Veterans Ombud to help with the ongoing investigation," said Lashbrook Knutson.
At last week's committee meeting, Conservative MP Blake Richards asked MacAulay about a veteran who came forward on the podcast Tango Romeo about being offered MAID in November 2021. MacAulay told the committee the story described on the podcast was not one of the four confirmed instances, suggesting that there may be more veterans who have been offered MAID.
"In that case, either something was missed in this investigation, or there is another employee involved. And now it's a matter of determining which of those two things it is. In either case, that's concerning," Richards said on Nov. 24.
With files from CTV News' Creeson Agecoutay