The first evil step: In 2016, Canada broke with the long history of Western Christian civilization—and common law dating back to the Middle Ages1— when it legalized medically assisted suicide for incurably ill and disabled citizens who were in an advanced state of decline and whose deaths were “reasonably foreseeable.”2 The vast majority of government-sanctioned killings were by lethal injection, administered by doctors or nurses. Only a tiny minority were self-administered suicides. Most Canadians were either uneasy or opposed to it. It didn’t matter. The Liberal government had a parliamentary majority. They could do what they wanted—and they did. But since the nation’s collective conscience needed to be massaged into accepting the government’s agenda, the legislation was gently introduced. The original criteria required that Canadians who sought medically assisted suicide be at least eighteen and that:
1. They have a “serious and incurable disease or disability.”
2. They are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capacity.
3. Their illness, disease, or disability and state of decline causes them to endure physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions they consider acceptable.
4. Their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.3
In 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court declared that laws prohibiting assisting the suicides of people with terminal conditions and severe disabilities were unconstitutional.4 This required Parliament to amend the nation’s Criminal Code and related laws to allow medically assisted suicides of the terminally and chronically ill, and disabled adults with “irremediable conditions,” who requested help to kill themselves. The only additional requirement was that their deaths had to be “reasonably foreseeable.”
Justin Trudeau’s federal government didn’t use the term “assisted suicide.” That would have been too direct and honest. Clever government wordsmiths conjured the pleasant-sounding euphemism “medical assistance in dying” (MAiD). It was meant to make the horrible act of killing the dying and disabled sound altruistic.
Canada’s disability community saw through it. We opposed it. We could see very real dangers to those with disabilities. We were right. In 2021, after Canadians had become accustomed to euthanasia on a limited basis, the criteria that death be “reasonably foreseeable” was removed from the law—the second evil step.
Various disability organizations and individuals made vehement objections to the federal government. Our appeals fell on deaf ears in the corridors of power; the law’s parameters were widened to include assisted suicide of non-terminal disabled people.5 The euphemism medical assistance in dying (MAiD) became medically assisted death and should have been called MAD (a rather accurate acronym). It required only that a person have an irremediable condition.
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I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984. It caused significant paralysis and put me in an electric wheelchair. I’ve been treated for clinical depression for many years. In light of Canada’s medically assisted death law, in 2016 I wrote a letter to my physician and asked that it be put in my file.
Dear Dr. B.,
Should I ever request assisted suicide, I want you to refuse to help me. On this point I am emphatic. Presume that I am speaking out of depression or that multiple sclerosis has begun to affect my mental state. I would not make such a request in my right mind. If, in your judgment, I am suffering from depression, please get me the counselling I need. If the MS is affecting my mind, protect me from myself or others who would take my life before my natural death. Regarding my end-of-life-care, I ask you to provide treatment in accordance with my Roman Catholic faith (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2276-2282).
. . . I would not ask you to stop being my healer and become my killer, unless my mental faculties were impaired by depression or disease.
My fears were well placed. In its first year, MS was one of the main conditions for MAiD. The federal government’s Interim Update for 2016 stated:
The most common underlying medical circumstances among those receiving assistance in dying were related to cancer (neoplasm), neurological illness (e.g., multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and cardiovascular/respiratory disease.6
By 2020 people with MS represented nearly 10 percent of all those who received lethal injections.7 One year later, the percentage of MS deaths rose to 13.9 percent of all MAiD killings!8
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There was much concern in the larger disability community when “reasonably foreseeable death” was removed from MAiD legislation. A coalition of twenty disability rights groups—under the auspices of the Toronto-based ARCH Disability Law Centre—filed a request for a hearing with the International American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commission promotes human rights throughout the Americas. In a September 2022 press release, ARCH Executive Director Robert Lattanzio stated:
Canada has repeatedly dismissed the concerns of people with disabilities. Our clients are deeply concerned that people with disabilities are dying by MAiD not because they want to end their lives, but because the social and economic conditions they live in are so dehumanizing. We have asked the IACHR for a hearing and trust they will take these rights violations seriously.9
He was correct. So many Canadians with disabilities live dehumanizing lives. They exist in perpetual poverty. They are unemployed or unemployable. They do not have access to adequate or timely medical and psychiatric care. They may lack proper pain control. They have inadequate social supports. Many are lonely and isolated. No wonder they can become suicidal!
In 2021, Justin Trudeau’s “progressive” government had also taken the third incremental step of evil: It extended eligibility for assisted suicide to the mentally ill, to begin on March 17, 2023. The mentally ill! Assisted suicide eligibility would include people with mental challenges as their sole “irremediable” condition. When this was announced, it was clear that many Canadians were reluctant to embrace yet another new “right” to assisted suicide: Only 23 percent were in favour of it.10
In December 2022, as the ominous date approached, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) issued a statement voicing grave concerns about assisting the suicides of people with mental illnesses. They stated, in part:
CASP is joined by a host of other national organizations and medical societies calling for a pause to the expansion of MAiD, amid concerns of a lack of evidence of “irremediable” mental illness, as well as the absence of necessary public awareness, training, protections and safeguards and evaluation frameworks that must be established to ensure the health and safety of both patients and physicians.11
Dr. Valerie Taylor, department head of psychiatry at the University of Calgary, said “Further time is required to increase awareness.” Doctor Sonu Gaind, chief of psychiatry at Toronto’s Humber Hospital, commented in a radio interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): “It’s basically impossible to know in cases of mental illness whether the condition is truly ‘irremediable,’ i.e., cannot be cured or alleviated.” Dr. Gaind argued that with the state of the science, “we cannot make these predictions.” Psychiatrists knew this legislation would dramatically increase dangers for some of Canada’s most vulnerable people, who need care and protection, not death.
Justice Minister David Lametti seemed surprised by the blow-back, particularly from psychiatrists, the disability community, and, of course, ordinary people of good will. Bowing slightly to the outrage, he postponed implementation of assisted suicide for mental illness until March 2024. In an attempt to save face but not change course, he said:
We need to be prudent. We need to move step by step, making sure that people within the profession, Canadian society at large, has internalized this step, . . . To be honest, we could have gone forward with the original date, but we want to be sure. We want to be safe. We want everybody to be on the same page.12 [Translation: The government jumped the gun. They need to massage the public conscience more to be lulled into accepting a further plunge into the unthinkable.]
The blow-back simply caused an unexpected delay in culling suicidal mentally ill people from the population. Assisted suicide for the mentally ill will be implemented! There is no stopping it.
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There were times when the course of my own disease and disability was so terrible—when wide-eyed terror moved to despair—that I would have been open to suicide (assisted or otherwise). What prevented me from doing it was my faith in God, the love of my family, and a significant community of concern that surrounded me with compassionate support. Other people lifted up my value and natural human dignity when I lost sight of it.
More recently, I experienced another deep depression—the worst of my adult life. It wasn’t caused by disability or physical pain. It was caused by emotional and spiritual anguish. I sank to my lowest point of personal crisis. Although I would not have asked for assisted suicide, if someone entered my room to give me a fatal injection, I’m not sure I would have resisted. My world was not what I thought it was. I needed to grieve about that, to acknowledge the depth of my emotional pain and even to rage at my loss and disappointment with life. I did not need help ending my life because of what seemed to be an insurmountable wall of grief—I needed psychological and medical support. I needed family and community support. I needed to be reminded of God’s presence, to hear that the sun might eventually peak over the wall of emotional and spiritual anguish and drive back my darkness of soul. Any decent psychologist would have known that grief, sorrow, and depression can skew perceptions and lead to despair. I needed care, not death. Sometimes people must be protected from themselves.
Several members of my family have been plagued by serious physical and mental disabilities. My daughter and grandson have autism. A granddaughter suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Other relatives have mental challenges such as bipolar disorder. Last year, a mentally ill family member tried to hang herself. Fortunately, her husband entered the room in time to cut the ligature from her neck and save her from succeeding with her suicide. She was committed to psychiatric care until her crisis passed.
According to Canada’s new way of thinking, her civil rights and freedom to choose death were violated. All she would have had to do was wait until March of 2024, when assisted suicide for the mentally ill becomes legal. She could have medical help in killing herself by lethal injection or swallowing a lethal cocktail of poison prescribed by a doctor. Bon appétit!
Will my family be culled from the population under the false compassion of Justin Trudeau and his henchmen, and other euthanasia enthusiasts? Canada has entered a dark time of killing off its physically (and soon mentally) disabled. Earlier this year a parliamentary committee recommended MAiD for mature minors (children). That, when it comes, will be the fourth increment of evil.
A perfect storm is brewing that may well usher in wide-spread euthanasia for what Nazi Germany called “useless eaters”—the sick and disabled, the chronically depressed and mentally ill, the elderly, and the indigent population. Canada has a universal healthcare system with mushrooming costs that make up the single largest portion of many provincial government budgets. In my quieter moments I wonder when the right to die will become the duty to die.
Never presume the future. Who knows what is around the next corner? There are unexpected physical or mental scenarios with any disability or disease; who can say with complete certainty what’s to come? To presume the future is to play God. We have heard about doctors being notoriously wrong when predicting the life expectancy of sick or terminally ill people; many of those patients have gone on to live years, even decades beyond expectations! I am one of them. For most of my adult life I have wrestled with serious neurological disease and creeping disability. My doctors are surprised I am still alive. In fact, my neurologist recently quipped that he has never seen a patient with MS as severe as mine live so long.
At the risk of losing credibility with readers of this article, I am going to share something that happened to me. My doctors were incredulous. It was and is—do I dare say the word?—a miracle. After more than three decades of aggressive multiple sclerosis that reduced me to triplegia (three limbs were paralysed), I fully expected my next address would be a nursing home. No longer did I have remissions so characteristic of early MS, only slow decline. My disease had moved from exacerbating/remitting in the earlier stages to secondary progressive, in other words, end-stage multiple sclerosis. My brain is riddled with MS lesions.
One evening in 2018, I sat in my electric wheelchair during a beautiful quiet time of Eucharistic Adoration at my parish. In the dim flickering light of votive candles, I prayed something I had often prayed throughout the years:
Lord, I pray that if it be your will, raise me from this wheelchair and let me walk again, even with crutches or a walker, or canes, even if only for a short time. Let me dance with my wife once more.
This time, something changed. Over the next couple of weeks, long-lost functions began to awaken. I initially recovered use of my right arm and hand. For the first time in over twenty years, I was able to hold a pen and write. My handwriting was exactly as it had been before the onset of MS. One frosty winter morning I was sitting in my wheelchair at the kitchen table drinking my first cup of coffee. I saw my recently deceased mother-in-law’s walker in a corner near the table and suddenly felt prompted, not by words, but rather by a divine understanding that came not from across the room but across the ages: Stand up and walk with that walker. I hadn’t walked in years, my legs were atrophied from paralysis, but the prompting was so intense that I tried—and did it! Granted, my popsicle stick thin legs were shaking, but I grabbed the walker and took my first steps in years—five of them. Stunned, I did it again, then yelled to my sleeping wife to get up and see what was happening. She came to the door of the bedroom wiping the sleep from her eyes. I took ten steps with the walker. She literally staggered back and began to cry. Ten steps became twenty, then thirty, and before long I was walking the length of our house. My doctors are dumbfounded. Two neurologists did full physical exams, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of my brain. The lesions are still there. This should not be happening! Doctors have no explanation. The walker was ditched for two canes, then one. It’s been five years and I’m still walking (I use a cane for longer distances). Full function of my right arm and hand have been restored. I even ride a bike. My wheelchair sits in a spare room untouched, gathering dust.
One bitterly cold winter night, my wife and I were sitting in our living room. A log was burning in the fireplace. Music was playing on our stereo. I looked at her with such love; she has been at my side through decades of wide-eyed terrors brought on by my serious neurological disease. Her name is LaRee. She could have left me. She was still young when my disability journey began. She chose to stay for the sake of love. I played the last song we danced to before the wheelchairs, hoists and other contraptions for dealing with paralysing disabilities: “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady.” In the warm shadows of a flickering fire, we danced—an unexpected gift from God; something we didn’t think we would ever experience again.
Every life is worth protecting for the sake of love (both human and Divine). If I have to return to my wheelchair one day, I will still praise God. He gave me what I prayed for: I can walk, I can dance with my wife again. I have come to understand that assisted suicide and euthanasia have no place in a genuine human family. If I were to ask for medically assisted death, it would affect my wife, my children, and my grandchildren. It would affect my doctor, because I will have asked her to stop being my healer and become my executioner. It would affect my community and nation by helping to entrench the notion that there are lives not worth living. That is the fifth increment of evil.
No, I do not have that right. I have a responsibility to the whole of the human community, and its most vulnerable, not just to myself. It is only when we encounter divine love that human love can flourish. Love does not kill. Nor does it assist in the suicides of people who have lost hope and sunk beneath the waves of their circumstances. Genuine love lifts the defeated.
1. In the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide (Washington v. Gluck), Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated: “ . . . an examination of our nation’s history, legal traditions, and practices demonstrates that Anglo American common law has punished or otherwise disapproved of assisting suicide for over 700 years.” Christianity has always been at the root of Common law. In his inaugural address as Dane professor of Law at Harvard University in 1829, Joseph Story said, “There never has been a period in which Common Law did not recognize Christianity as laying at its foundation.” (Quoted in Perry Miller, editor, The Legal Mind in America (New York: Doubleday, 1962) p. 178.
2. STATUTES OF CANADA, 2016, Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and related amendments to other Acts medical assistance in dying, 17 March 2016. https://www.parl.ca/ DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-14/royal-assent
3. STATUTES OF CANADA, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying), ASSENTED TO June 17, 2006, BILL C-14, 241.2(B).
4. Supreme Court of Canada Ruling, C-14 on medical assistance in dying, received Royal assent on June 17, 2016. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/ad-am/toc-tdm.html
5. Department of Justice, “New medical assistance in dying legislation becomes law,” Ottawa, Government of Canada, 17 March 2021.
6. Government of Canada, Interim Update on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, June 17 to December 31, 2016. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/health-systemservices/medical-assistance-dying-interim-report-dec-2016.html#a3
7. Government of Canada, Second Annual Report on Medical Assisted Suicide, 2020, Chart 4.1C: MAID By Neurological Condition, https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/ health-system-services/annual-report-medical-assistance-dying-2020.html#4_1_chart_c
8. Government of Canada, Third Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, Chart 4.1.C. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/medical-assistance-dying/ annual-report-2021/annual-report-2021.pdf
9. “Disability Rights Groups Call for Public Hearing on Canada’s MAiD Law at International Body,” ARCH Disability Law Centre press release. 22 September 2022. https://archdisabilitylaw.ca/disabilityrights-groups-call-for-public-hearing-on-canadas-maid-law-at-international-human-rights-body 10.“Mental Health and MAID: Canadians question looming changes to Canada’s assisted-death law.” https://angusreid.org/assisted-dying-maid-mental-health/
11. CASPIssuesStatementAboutMAiDforMentalIllness,14December,2022. https://suicideprevention. ca/media/casp-issues-statement-about-maid-for-mental-illness/#:~:text=CASP%20is%20joined%20 by%20a,safeguards%20and%20evaluation%20frameworks%20tha
12. Alex Schadenberg, “Canada to delay euthanasia for mental illness until 2024,” 2 February 2023, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition blog. https://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2023/02/canada-todelay-euthanasia-for-mental.html
Mark David Pickup is a Canadian writer and disabilities advocate who blogs at HumanLifeMatters.org.