Webcast archive: 17/10/13

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck, Christian Debray, and Taylor Hyatt discuss:

  • Review of Canadian disability legislation: British Columbia
  • Top courts in UK and US reject assisted suicide

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

REVIEW OF CANADIAN DISABILITY RIGHTS LEGISLATION: BRITISH COLUMBIA

  • Today, we’re continuing our series on provincial disability rights legislation across Canada. British Columbia does not have a law guaranteeing disability rights. Instead, the provincial government has a plan to make the province “fully accessible” by 2024.
  • The Accessibility 2024 strategy grew out of a public consultation held in 2013 and 2014. As with the federal legislation, suggestions were submitted online, (via email, in videos, and on social media), through organizations, and in person at 23 community meetings.  This led up to a one-day B.C. Accessibility Summit in June 2014; a meeting of leaders from the government, businesses, local communities and disability advocates.
  • Accessibility 2024 is based on 12 “building blocks” identified through the consultations:
    • an inclusive government.
    • accessibility of government services
    • accessible internet
    • an accessible built environment
    • housing
    • transit
    • provincial income support
    • employment
    • financial security
    • inclusive communities
    • preparation for emergencies, especially earthquakes
    • and the experience of visitors and consumers.
  • At first glance, this seems like a fantastic and broad initiative. The most obvious problem, though, is that the program’s promises are not backed up by law. It scatters some “treats”, rather than guaranteeing rights and imposing obligations that can be legally and consistently enforced. There is no remedy if the government doesn’t meet the program goals.  There is no way for someone to fight for recognition of their rights in the future, since the province has already “done so much” for its disabled residents.
  • One of the clearest examples of “a treat” is a housing project that involved giving low-rise apartment developers additional funds for each new unit with accessible features – like lever-style faucets, wider halls and doorways, and lower counters. Developers may apply for the subsidy, rather than being mandated to build a certain number of accessible units.
  • Other components of the program simply don’t make sense. Among its accomplishments so far, the “built environment” section of the strategy lists giving financial support to a company based in BC that provides prosthetic limbs to people in Haiti. The transit section overlooked the lack of automatic stop announcements on buses in many communities, yet it created accessible motorcycle permits. And one way of supporting “inclusive communities” was a large donation to several parasport organizations. Instead of continuing segregation, real integration would have meant enabling disabled people to obtain access to an existing activity they choose.
  • Accessibility 2024 was designed with good intentions, but it won’t actually change much. Even though disabled people across British Columbia were consulted before the plan was written, it appears to be yet another case of governments doing what is easy rather than what is necessary.

TOP COURTS IN UK AND US REFUSE ASSISTED SUICIDE APPEALS

  • Last week, the UK High Court ruled that protections against assisted suicide should not be removed. Noel Conway has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and fears that the progression of his condition would leave him “entombed” in his own body. He wanted the option to have a doctor end his life once he was given a prognosis of six months or less to live.
  • Mr. Conway argued that Britain’s prohibition on assisted suicide violates his “right to respect for his private life” without “interference by a public authority,” under the European Convention on Human Rights. He had proposed a series of safeguards to evaluate requests for assisted suicide, including a written application, the approval of two physicians and one High Court justice, and the creation of an oversight body.
  • Not Dead Yet UK intervened in the case. They expressed concerns that people with disabilities could view themselves as a burden and face pressure to die. The British Medical Association, the British Geriatric Society and the Royal College of General Practitioners also made insightful comments.  They noted that assisted suicide is against the fundamental healing role of a doctor, and is a greater threat to women and people experiencing social isolation. The desire to die may be rooted in other conditions that can be relieved, like depression, pain, and a lack of independence. Most importantly, the BMA highlighted the difference between acknowledging the inevitability of death and taking proactive steps to end life.
  • The Court concluded that Mr. Conway’s right to privacy could be limited in order to protect “morals” and “the rights and freedoms of others.”
  • In response to the High Court decision, Not Dead Yet UK issued a statement, which reads in part “We welcome the decision by the High Court to reject this attempt to treat terminally ill and disabled people differently by removing vital legal protections. We are looking forward to the national conversation now focussing on the real issue here, which is a lack of adequate social care being provided to people with disabilities. Similarly, we need a proper discussion on ensuring adequate palliative care is provided for the terminally ill.”
  • The US Supreme Court also decided that it would not hear the appeal of the case by the Final Exit Network (FEN) in a Minnesota case. The Network was convicted two years ago of encouraging a woman’s suicide. FEN’s lawyers argued that the state law against counseling another person in how to take their life violates freedom of speech. However, the State Supreme Court said the ban was constitutional, and that giving instructions on how to take someone’s life was a form of speech that “assists” in suicide.  The Supreme Court’s refusal to take the case means the state court decision stands.