What I intended to write about this week was the report. By that I mean the final report of the joint committee whose hearings were intended, at least in part, to gather input from the people affected by the change in Canadian law that allows doctor-assisted death for disabled people who are not dying.

But I found myself being hugely resistant to that task. I didn’t want to go there, even though I knew it was important to help people understand the committee’s 23 recommendations and how they are relevant to our readers. I struggled with feelings of helplessness and — perhaps strangely — boredom. It was all so predictable, so coded in government double-speak, so irrelevant to the real problems that we have with this law — not just this part of it, actually, but the whole practice of medically administered death. I just wanted to take a break and read my novel! (That’s an old trauma response from my childhood, by the way).

That is, until I read an article published in the Globe and Mail last week by Dr. Scott Kim. Dr. Kim is a psychiatrist and philosopher who served on the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel Working Group on MAID Where a Mental Disorder is the Sole Underlying Medical Condition. Dr. Kim stated in his article titled In Canada, MAID has become a matter of ideology that “The [Canadian medical community] has been captured by a uniquely Canadian MAID ideology, and that calling “it” a medically effective treatment is an especially cruel form of gaslighting.

I found myself jumping up and down and saying YES!! YES!! Validation! That’s what I’ve been feeling for so long — Gaslit! If you haven’t read it yet, please see it here.

I was captivated by his article, especially the part where he says “… one need not be for or against the procedure (medically administered death) to see that it should be considered a tragic last resort.”

The result is always death. Always. There’s no recovery; no second thoughts; no discovery or re-discovery of what makes life worth living even when you’re near the very end of it. There’s always loss. And for those who die this way when they’re not even close to death — now that is tragic, in the true Ancient Greek or Shakespearian sense of the word.

So, what is ideology? Well, it’s not religion, which bases its beliefs and rules of conduct upon the edicts of an external supernatural being. But like religion, it is a belief system. An ideology is a set of ideas, sometimes unconsciously held, that shape, for better or worse, how we see the world and act in it. Ideology shapes power relations and political realities.

The ideology at work here is … what could we call it? Beneficial self-destruction? Efficiency? Expediency? Individualistic autonomy? White/able/class/colonial supremacy? Extreme secularism? The notion that humanity would be better off without suffering — a worthy ideal, perhaps — and that suffering should be eliminated by allowing doctors to administer death to sufferers?

Next is the concept of “capture“. Everyone knows the word capture, of course, especially in the context of wild animals or criminals. But more worrisome is the concept of “policy capture” which happens when powerful ideological forces “capture” elected officials, directing legislative choices away from the public interest, and towards ideological ends. The underpinning ideology of medically hastened death captured our Supreme Court, then the medical regulators of every province and territory, as well as a fair number of zealous physicians — although certainly not all doctors.

Finally was the “aha moment” brought to me by the word gaslighting. To Gaslight someone means to subject them to an insidious kind of “abuse that doesn’t leave any marks or evidence”, but aims to confuse and undermine their sense of shared reality. On the subject of medically assisted suicide, the gaslighting efforts started decades ago, most famously in the 1990’s with Dr. Kevorkian in America, Robert Latimer and Sue Rodriguez in Canada. But change accelerated rapidly in 2015, when the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the life-affirming Rodriguez decision, and replaced it with the Carter decision. Within an eye blink, death became a “benefit” that a person could “apply for, qualify for” and be “granted” with or without involvement of family or other loved ones. Within a few more blinks, the word euthanasia was shunned and the new word, MAiD, became the one everyone had to use. A few blinks later, and we can no longer talk about suicide as anything other than a violent, impulsive, bloody act “in the moment”. MAiD is NOT suicide, we’re told, even though the decision to stop living when not dying is, indeed, suicide. The particular concept that triggered Dr. Kim’s strong statement was the assertion that euthanasia is a “medically effective treatment”, one that always works. It works by ending the need for any further treatment. It works by eliminating the life-saving ambivalence that keeps most suicide-attempters gratefully alive.

It seems to me that euthanasia enthusiasts gained the willing participation of the medical regulators, who embraced the ideology for its economic benefits, helping them to manage tight budgets, reducing physician burnout and the need for chronic and long-term beds. Medical associations gaslit their members, putting enthusiasts in positions of power and undermining the worried objectors. That’s one level of it. Enthusiasts also gaslit certain senators, politicians and judges, who in turn gaslit their various houses of power. Members of those houses, assigned to committees of investigation, gaslit presenters and members of the concerned public. For example, the most recent committee, called AMAD, listened to hours of testimony, treating fellow ideologues with respect and deference, while treating members of the affected communities with trivializing disregard. The result was the 23 Recommendations that I felt so reluctant and de-motivated to write about.

Disability rights communities, having gained confidence and solidarity through collective action, have not been willing or passive victims. But the gaslighting continues. Community activists trying to hold the line against expansion of the practice are accused of being selfish and cruel — lacking compassion. They are accused of being hysterical and paranoid. They are reassured that there is no slippery slope. The are told that there is nothing to fear from expansion. That they are safe. But they’ve been told that before, back in 2016, when the law was passed. Then in 2021 came Bill C-7 which directly targets them.

Individuals strongly rooted in community solidarity have stood firm and fought back. Isolated individuals without community support have proved much more vulnerable to the gaslighters’ message. The stories started to come out in the media, and they’re still coming: disabled people choosing to die rather than continue to live in unsafe conditions, in abject poverty, in untreated pain, alone and abandoned. Out of luck, out of life. With help. Tragedy.

So, what can we do to take care of ourselves when we know we’re being gaslit? We can learn the signs and follow steps that abused persons have been taking to regain their power, stability and confidence. Steps such as:

  • Watch what they do. Their words aren’t honest or reliable. Their goal is not to defend your human rights, which they might say they’re doing, but to gain power in a way that defeats your rights and gives them power.
  • Stand by your feelings. They are not trivial or wrong. If it feels like you’re being lied to, chances are you are. Take notes. Who said what when, where, to whom.
  • Trust yourself. You know what words mean, and if you don’t, you know how to look them up. Twisting of language is one of their most potent tools. Resist!
  • When you’re feeling worn down, know you’re not alone. Defending our human right to life and support is exhausting! Find ways to care for yourselves and each other, so you’ll still have enough energy to battle on. (Go ahead, take a break, read that novel!!)
  • Don’t fight alone! Join with others who can validate your experience and support your right to have the supports you need. Share thoughts and strategies. Have some fun.
  • If the gaslighters offer you a bone, spit it out! You’re not a dog. (For example, Recommendation 12: A new Panel to study Disability and MAiD. Seriously?? Now?? Not BEFORE C-7, but two, no three years later?? They’ve got to be kidding!)
  • Recognize when the gaslighter accuses you of being something that you’re not, i.e. a right-wing zealot, for example. This is a classic gaslighting technique — accusing you of something that they are actually guilty of. They are ideological zealots.
  • Don’t accept a goodie from the gaslighter if it comes with pressure to stop speaking out or associating with others. If you need to accept the benefit in order to survive, do it! But resist any and all efforts to silence you.
  • Guard your solidarity with other disabled folks and allies. The gaslighter will try to pit one group against another — they do it all the time. Solidarity is powerful when we all stick together.
  • Speak kindly to yourselves, to your friends and your allies. Kindness never hurts.

I want to thank Dr. Scott Kim for clarifying and naming what’s going on here. Clarity is the best antidote for gaslight. Now, maybe in a future post I’ll be ready to go through the report’s recommendations. Or not. I’ll follow readers’ wishes, if I can!

To learn more about gaslighting, here’s a useful resource.

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