Webcast archive: 17/11/03

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

  • Review of Canadian disability rights legislation: Saskatchewan
  • Scottish man with MS reconsiders assisted suicide

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

REVIEW OF CANADIAN DISABILITY RIGHTS LEGISLATION: SASKATCHEWAN

  • Hi everyone! We’re back from our trip to Toronto for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition conference and ready to continue our series on provincial accessibility laws. Today, we’re discussing Saskatchewan.
  • Like British Columbia, Saskatchewan doesn’t have a disability rights law, but the provincial government came up with its own accessibility strategy called “People Before Systems” in 2015.
  • “People Before Systems” was based on consultations held in the spring and summer of 2014. Saskatchewan residents submitted comments via social media, through an online survey, at public meetings and focus groups, and in writing.
  • The six major points addressed in the strategy are:
    • Putting People Before Systems;
    • Safeguarding Rights and Safety;
    • Increasing Economic and Social Inclusion;
    • Building Personal and Community Capacity;
    • Creating Accessible Communities; and
    • Becoming an Inclusive Province.
  • Under each of these categories are vague subheadings, like “Inclusion of Aboriginal People.” or “Accessing Personal Supports.”  Some starting points have been noted, such as “Review the range of supportive housing options and determine opportunities to expand and sustain [them],” but they’re just as vague. When will the review be done?  How will “opportunities to expand and sustain” supportive housing lead to actual accessible apartments and personal assistance services?
  • The strategy uses the term “people experiencing disability.” In their explanation, the strategy’s authors note that “disability” is an interaction between the person and their environment.  While obstacles to accessibility can be removed, the authors appear to believe that the individual’s circumstances can also be changed. This kind of language suggests that all aspects of disability are external, which isn’t true. For example, no matter how accessible a store is, a person’s need for a wheelchair doesn’t change. In this view, problems only seem to exist because disabled people complain about a lack of access, rather than because there are barriers.
  • The authors also imply that because disability also affects non-disabled professionals and loved ones, these people have an equivalent understanding of what it means to be disabled in our society.  Even though they may know quite a bit about our conditions, it’s not the same as living with a disability all the time; their interests are not identical.  Thus, advisory bodies that allow for representation by “disabled people or their family members” will not have true disability leadership, because the interests of family members often conflict with those of people with disabilities
  • This past February, local activists called the provincial government out on its lack of progress in implementing the plan. Though “People Before Systems” was published two years ago, Robin East of Barrier-Free Saskatchewan has told the Regina Leader-Post that nothing has been done and the plan has “been collecting dust.” It’s easy to see why some Saskatchewan residents disapprove. The current plan contains a lot of ideas but lacks details and enforcement.
  • The model legislation proposed by Barrier Free Saskatchewan follows that suggested in other provinces.

SCOTTISH MAN WITH MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS RECONSIDERS ASSISTED SUICIDE

  • BBC News recently published the story of Colin Campbell, a Scottish man with MS who had planned to travel to Switzerland in June for an assisted suicide.
  • The progress of Mr. Campbell’s condition meant that he was no longer able to play sports, had to leave his job, and had difficulty leaving his second-floor apartment. He found the resulting isolation, and the frequency of severe illness that kept him in the hospital over winter, overwhelming. By April of this year, Mr. Campbell decided to go to Switzerland, since assisted suicide is illegal in Scotland. He appeared on a TV show discussing his desire to die.
  • Rona Tynan, who also lives in Inverness and has MS, happened to be watching the show. She wondered whether Mr. Campbell had all the support he needed, and decided to get in touch with him. Ms. Tynan eventually arranged for Mr. Campbell to try a mobility scooter, which has helped him get around, thus easing his isolation. She was surprised that no one else had reached out to him, because his wish to die was very well-known.
  • Mr. Campbell has since moved into an accessible apartment with personal assistance.  He is glad to have some “bonus time,” but wants to be “realistic” and hasn’t “cancelled” his plan to go to Switzerland one day.
  • Mr. Campbell said that “he had to pass six tests” to make sure he wasn’t being coerced into asking for assisted suicide. Yet this “safeguard” failed to prevent the “external pressure” of inadequate supports and inaccessible housing from contributing to his desire to die.
  • Ms. Tynan has also had trouble getting the supports she needs. She told the BBC “I have spent thousands on things like stair lifts and private care but still haven’t got a ramp.”
  • We often think of increased palliative care as the most obvious way to reduce demand for assisted suicide, but it is not enough. People with disabilities also need accessible housing, a liveable income and support services, which are just as hard to find.
  • This story also shows the degree to which peer support is essential for disabled people to adjust to living with a disability.  When non-disabled professionals attempt to offer support and information, they lack credibility because they don’t have the experience, understanding, and empathy that come from living with a disability.