It has been just over a year since Disability and Faith Forum author Chantal Huinink and the CEO of Christian Horizons, Janet Nolan, appeared on the television show “Context with Lorna Dueck” on “Assisted Living Meets Assisted Dying.” With the release of Bill C-14 in April and a June 6th, 2016 deadline for legislation to be passed governing assisted death in Canada, significant decisions are being made in the area of Assisted Death that will soon be finalized. In this post, Chantal Huinink reflects on the Context episode (which you can watch in its entirety below) and the significance of assisted death legislation for people with disabilities.
I realize the importance of advocacy following the tragic death of Tracy Latimer in 1993. Like me Tracy had cerebral palsy, except Tracy could not speak. She could not tell others that despite her challenges and potential suffering, her life was valuable and worth living. Since then I have been motivated to communicate and demonstrate that God has given me a very fulfilling life regardless of challenges. Furthermore, the experience of struggle and overcoming obstacles often gives my life deeper meaning then unencumbered circumstantial happiness.
I was invited by Lorna Dueck and Janet Nolan to speak about my views on physician-assisted death in Canada on Context in April of last year. This was the first time I have publicly shared the importance of Tracy’s legacy to me and how it relates to my purpose and mission of advocating for me and others in similar situations. It was wonderful to share the platform of Context with dedicated advocates including Janet Nolan, Christian Horizons’ CEO and John Guido, Outreach Officer at L’Arche Toronto.
Canada is exemplary in offering quality, universal healthcare, which not only sustains but often promotes/improves quality of life. Canada is also exemplary in terms of encouraging full participation in society by people of all abilities. Yet, many who have not had the experience of illness or disability struggle to understand or validate the quality of life, skills and value of people who live with illness or disability. Therefore, the Canadian Supreme Court’s ruling on assisted death seems like a step backwards. It suggests that regardless of all that we stand for and all that we may do to help and support, life with illness or disability is not truly worth living. The implicit message is rather than fighting for the rights of equality, marginalized disadvantaged groups including, but not limited to people with illness or disabilities should just give up.
Given that physician-assisted death is not yet common in Canada many vulnerable individuals and families may resist the option. However, in the long-term I am worried that individuals and families struggling with the physical, mental, emotional or financial impact of disability may be encouraged to exercise physician-assisted death when they become of age. Depending on these individual’s particular challenges they may also be especially influenced by the ideas and opinions of doctors, caregivers, family or friends. While my personal viewpoint, informed by my faith, is that it is better not to advocate for one’s own death, my even deeper fear with assisted dying legislation is that those of us who are perceived as vulnerable will be forced to advocate for our reason for living.
- “Dear Elayne Shapray – Assisted Death or Assisted Life” from December of 2015.
- “Whose Right to Die?” from February of 2015
- Recently, James Schutten advocated on behalf of people with disabilities in front of the Canadian Parliament, saying “With this right to die, it makes me feel like society thinks I should choose to die.” See more here.
- Watch the full Context with Lorna Dueck episode below, or visit the episode summary here.