This week, Justice Minister Lametti announced that his party will apply for an extension on the deadline for inclusion of mental illness in the MAID regime. Let’s just take a moment to say
H U R R A H !!!!!!!
It is a win, of sorts, so do whatever you do to celebrate this kind of win — a glass of wine, a sprint around the block, a happy dance, dim sum — go wild! Go for it!! Now do it one more time!
And now that you’ve got it out of your system, let’s regroup and think about what the request for an extension means, what it doesn’t mean, and where we should go from here.
What it means
- It means that they listened to the voices of some very powerful stakeholders: psychiatrists who cautioned that their professional training and experience in no way enables them to look into a crystal ball and predict a hopeless outcome for anyone with a mental illness, no matter how long the person has been in treatment or how many drug cocktails have been tried. IRREMEDIABILITY can NEVER be definitively pronounced in cases of mental illness.
If both patient and doctor give up and succumb to despair, that’s not a reason for MAID. That’s a tragic human and professional failure.
- It means, additionally, that they listened to some other powerful stakeholders: medical bureaucrats who know for sure that the systems they’re currently in charge of are not prepared to handle a huge influx of complex MAID applications absent clear and comprehensible guidelines. They need to protect their members from lawsuits that could result from deaths administered improperly or incorrectly. They have to be sure their members aren’t vulnerable.
- And it MAY mean that the work of journalists, disability organizations, disabled individuals, Twitter writers, bloggers and others across the country, to surface stories about questionable, uncomfortable or downright wrong deaths in desperate circumstances, had an impact. Politically, it was not the slam-dunk the lawmakers hoped it was going to be. The polls they had relied on to convince themselves that there was a strong consensus in favour of MAID for all, dying or not, might have been flawed. We have put them on political alert — that’s all. We may be a significant voting block after all!
What it doesn’t mean
- I doesn’t mean that we’ve convinced anyone of anything. Not the front-benchers anyway. They still intend to proceed as if this little set-back never happened. It’s up to the back-benchers, constituents and opposition voices to keep raising doubts until they can no longer be ignored.
- It doesn’t mean that people with mental illness will not get MAID, just as they’ve been getting it all along, under different “checklists” or “boxes”. It doesn’t mean that people who might have had suicide-prevention services before MAID will reliably get those services in a timely fashion, or at all, now.
- It doesn’t mean we can sit back and rest on our laurels. A tiny victory isn’t the end of the fight.
Where we should go from here
The bad news, I guess, is that there is WORK ahead of us! But the good news is, there are a lot of us doing it, no matter how alone we might feel at our computers, avoiding the still-very-real pandemic. So what should we be working on? I offer this short list:
- Housing support
- Personal care support
- Income support
- Mental health support
- De-institutionalization support
- Human Rights support
The word support is key, obviously. When someone wants to die, find out what support they would need in order to want to live. Duh!
- Safe, affordable, accessible housing. There are many models in existence. This is a battle that can be waged on the local level. Your locality might need provincial or federal funding or legislation to make it happen, but they won’t even try — they won’t push — unless there are people in the community who see the need and demand that the gaps be filled. Not in my back yard? Screw that! Make it happen.
- COVID-19 has illuminated huge gaps and flaws in our care attitudes, our job responsibilities, and our social responsibilities. Care workers are critically undervalued in our local and provincial and yes, federal economies. They have been underpaid, under-respected and taken for granted. This has to change. Fight for it.
- Income inequality is a huge, recognized problem in our capitalist economic system. But here’s a question: Why should people who are good at some kinds of work earn SO MUCH money, while people who are not good at those things but are good at things like hugs or attention earn little or nothing. Why? Should we be working towards a system where people are valued just for being. Maybe. But meanwhile, being strictly practical, let’s work for a system that lets nobody live in poverty, no matter what. Can we think of ways to get started on work towards that goal? If you already are working in that direction, write something up and share it with us, please!
- The federal government’s 2021 budget promised a huge influx of cash into the mental health system. It hasn’t happened yet, but what should it aim to do when (not if) it does happen? How about eliminating wait times? Improving quality of community-based care? Opening up stress-reduction clinics to all comers?
- One of the main problems in all of our Lives Lived and our Lives in the Balance sections is the looming threat of institutionalization. Nobody wants to live in a place where their lives are controlled by staff schedules, rigid rules, cruel practices and neglect. The thought of surrendering your personal dignity to stay alive in conditions unfit for humans is enough to drive MAID decisions. Institutional care is expensive and inefficient and everyone hates it, including the staff and administrators. So why don’t we come up with some better answers?
- Finally, human rights support. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada that is increasingly being disrespected by a government that treats it like a tool in its strategic toolbox, for political ends. People with disabilities are included in the Charter because they are widely misunderstood, discriminated against and disrespected — the Charter is meant to protect their equal right to a dignified life alongside people who do not have disabilities. But what kind of protection is offered by a government that interprets the Charter in a way that permits the ending of disabled lives without legal consequences, when ending any other life is still illegal, unless that person is in the final agonizing throes of dying. This is so mind-bending that I have trouble dealing with it. If my right to life always ends up with me being dead … is that really a right to life? Is it just me? Or is this actually designed to make a person feel unmoored from reality?
So I’m hoping my readers will really give some thought to how they can get to work BEFORE the New Year on tackling some of these problems. Let’s stop letting the government decide who is and isn’t valuable.
And if you haven’t spent every last nickel on presents for your family, you might want to consider opening your wallet and supporting some folks who are teetering on a knife edge, trying to raise enough cash to secure for themselves the conditions they need to survive and thrive. Consider donating to one of these Go Fund Me pages. You won’t get a tax receipt. But you’ll know you helped a worthy human cling to life a little longer.
This is just a sampling. Let us know about others and we will create a new page featuring their ongoing struggles.
And have yourselves a happy, relaxing, peaceful, purposeful “Season of Giving“, whatever your tradition. Please be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work in 2023 to resist the government’s big push towards euthanasia for all. That’s not the Canada I want to live in. And I know there are more than a few of you out there who feel the same way.
See you all again in 2023!