I would like to acknowledge the traditional lands of the Algonquin peoples, where you are gathered, and the traditional lands of Treaty 7 first nations, from where I'm speaking with you today. Because we're televised, I also wish to acknowledge all other first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across Canada.
I also wish to thank the staff of the Peter Lougheed Centre, who made my appearance here today possible, but most importantly, I wish to thank them for saving my life.
DAWN-RAFH Canada has advocated on behalf of the interests of women with disabilities and deaf women as a party intervener before the Supreme Court of Canada in over a dozen cases. DAWN-RAFH Canada has presented legal arguments on both section 7 and section 15 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in cases on behalf of women with disabilities, which have brought the perspective and advanced the rights of women and people with disabilities.
The DisAbled Women's Network of Canada's mission is to end the poverty, isolation, discrimination, and violence experienced by women with disabilities and deaf women. DAWN-RAFH Canada is an organization that works toward the advancement and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities and deaf women and girls in Canada.
During the first year at DAWN-RAFH Canada of our national executive director, Bonnie Brayton and I were alarmed because we were approached by three women concerned that “do not resuscitate” orders were inappropriately applied to their family members. While I have been in hospital since December 18, 2015, I have been approached three more times by women with similar concerns while in a private room, twice in the span of five minutes.
On December 23, 2015, a friend who was visiting me in the ICU got a phone call that her uncle, for whom she is guardian, was being admitted from his nursing home to hospital. When she met him there, doctors told her that she should not consider treating him. They compared him to an old car that was not worth investing in. She insisted he be examined, and it was merely a urinary tract infection requiring rehydration and antibiotics.
Yesterday, a friend recounted that her husband had been repeatedly sent home from the emergency room while he was having a stroke. Upon being admitted to yet another hospital, he was being treated and developed heart failure because his fluid balance was upset. The doctors pressured her and her husband to not treat him. Upon summoning the cardiologist, the fluid balance was corrected and he was well within four days.
Five minutes later, I received a referral from a woman in the community who learned of a man whose wife has terminal breast cancer. This is his email that he asked me to read to you. He wrote, “What happened was that my wife, Sylvia, was rejected for getting help, as they said she was too heavy for care workers to lift. She cannot use her left leg or arm. She was visited by the nurse in charge and let know the news. I came to find her upset and crying, as well and scared.”
As part of palliative care, there must be support for family members and caregivers, as you can only imagine the toll on their mental health.
As well as a national and provincial leader in the women's disability movement, with experience in the mental health movement and the disability sector, I've been treated much like the prophetess Cassandra, whose prophecies were true but never believed. As a woman with multiple disabilities that make me ineligible for most treatment programs, and as a survivor of profound childhood abuse, my fear of physician-assisted death is visceral. The entire board of DAWN-RAFH Canada shares that fear, as do many of our colleagues across the disability sector.
When Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, everyone was excited and for the first time, we hoped that things would become better for our folks, particularly with article 6 emphasizing the disadvantages faced by women and girls with disabilities. You can imagine our shock when Canada did not ratify the optional protocol. That was just the beginning.
Canada then made profound cuts to every aspect of both government and non-government women-serving organizations and agencies. Then, without building up resources to alleviate violence, economic disparity, crushing poverty, unequal opportunities for education, a lack of disability transportation, home care, palliative care, hospice care, housing, disability, and mental health care, our Supreme Court of Canada, in the name of human rights, offers us the opportunity to die at the hands of the very physicians we're supposed to be able to trust to help us.
We do not have capital punishment in this country, nor do we extradite offenders to countries who do, because we are concerned that we may inadvertently execute an innocent person and cannot devise adequate safeguards to prevent this. Yet I find it alarming that in the name of individual rights our Supreme Court believes that we can.
The Carter v. Canada decision has rushed to judgment, compelling governments and Canadian society as a whole to make a rapid decision on matters Canadians have not had proper time to fully understand or consider. The Government of Canada must use the notwithstanding clause to stop physician-assisted death from moving forward as it is moving too quickly. Procedures and safeguards are insufficient as are alternative resources to physician-assisted death. No aspect of Canadian society has had an opportunity to really think about what it's doing. Canada needs to rethink its direction.
In the interest of time I will begin with my recommendations. A written brief has been submitted to the clerks and will be made available to you once it's translated.
Home care and palliative care must be made part of our health care and be equivalent across our country rather than chopping people into a geographic area. It needs national standards. Mental health care must be accessible to every citizen in our country before one dollar is spent on making review panels for physician-assisted death. We do not have enough dollars to save the thousands of people who die each year from suicide to spend one cent on the industry that will seek to kill our own people. Mental health care must have professionals who are cross-trained in trauma, addiction, and disability. We need to be sensitive to the needs of other cultures beyond a western view. Within the indigenous community, life is seen as sacred and the teachings point to this sacredness. To end life before one's time is finished on Turtle Island would be viewed by many as not honouring the life journey in a good way. It is vital that those perspectives from other voices be carefully considered.
For eligibility criteria a national comprehensive regulatory system is required to protect persons who are vulnerable to being abused from committing suicide in times of weakness. This is especially true for women who are particularly vulnerable. Women with disabilities need to have had a consultation with peer support groups before being eligible for physician-assisted death. Women are particularly vulnerable as a result of social or economic circumstances that diminish their resiliency.
Women with disabilities are at a greater risk of vulnerability because there is emphasis on compliance with caregivers or similar authority figures. This is especially true of women with intellectual disabilities, women with a lived experience of mental illness, and survivors of trauma. Also, women with disabilities are at greater risk because of violence and coercion. They also worry more about being a burden to others. Women with disabilities in representative organizations have much at stake in the designed delivery of any system developed to protect persons who are vulnerable from being induced to request physician-assisted death. It must be available only to competent adults with a grievous and irremediable condition that is the cause of enduring suffering intolerable to the individual, and only in a province that has high-quality palliative care, consistently and freely available to those who reside in that province. In itself disability is not a grievous and irremediable condition.
Request for physician-assisted death must be reviewed and authorized by an independent review panel with sufficient information to determine if the necessary criteria are met. Women with disabilities are horrified that physician-assisted death would be considered an option. For anyone under 18 years of age this is especially disconcerting in the light of Tracy Latimer's murder.
The Government of Canada must use the notwithstanding clause to stop physician-assisted death from moving forward. It is moving too quickly and procedures and safeguards to physician-assisted death are insufficient as are alternative resources. No aspect of Canadian society has had an opportunity to really think about what it's doing. Canada needs to rethink its direction.
Canada must ratify the optional protocol on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must be upheld, particularly articles 4, 6, 10, 19, 25, 26, 28, 32, and 33. Any measures of physician-assisted death must be mindful of complying with these articles. Also, they must uphold the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They must also consider the complications as well as the benefits that can occur.
People need to consider what happens if a person awakens after having been administered a lethal dose of medication. What happens if the dose of medication is administered and it's too late and the person changes their mind? If a person survives the lethal assisted death attempt to come out of it more disabled, what happens? Has anyone considered what policies and procedures might be brought to bear in the event the first procedure fails? How many attempts should be made to start an intravenous line and what will the process be if one cannot be established?