Webcast archive: Assisted suicide and communities of colour

Today, we look at the impact of assisted suicide on multicultural communities.

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

  • Assisted suicide and communities of colour: a bad fit
  • Announcement: the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s annual conference

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


  • The City Council of the District of Columbia in the United States is considering an assisted suicide bill.  A discussion of the bill is scheduled for the Council’s November 1st legislative session.
  • The bill faces substantial opposition in DC, which has a large African-American population, according to an article in the Washington Post published October 17.
  • Advocates point to current disparities in health care; multiple studies show that African-Americans tend to have poorer medical outcomes than whites.  They worry that having less treatment will lead people to want to end their lives early if assisted suicide is legalized.
  • Advocates are concerned that assisted suicide will be a form of  “Back-door eugenics,” with the goal of eliminating poor, elderly black people.  They point to the Tuskegee experiment, a 40-year study in which black men were told they were being treated for syphilis whereas in fact the researchers were merely examining the effects of the disease.
  • Assisted suicide is seen as “a white thing” and not consistent with the strongly held faith of many, especially older, African-Americans.  Nearly all of the demonstrators in favour of the DC bill were white, as have been Compassion & Choices spokespeople.  Only one African-American person in Oregon has had assisted suicide; proof that the practice is not common in the African-American community.
  • “Because of Jim Crow laws … we didn’t have the opportunity to have the same jobs to have the same insurance, the same retirement benefits,” said Leona Redmond, a 64-year-old long-time DC community activist who has been organizing other African American seniors against the legislation. “It’s really aimed at old black people. It really is.”
  • Professor Patricia King of Georgetown University School of law puts it this way:
  • “Many Americans – particularly the poor, the disabled, the elderly and members of racial and ethnic minorities – worry that if assisted suicide becomes widely available they will be viewed as ‘throwaway people.’ They fear coercion, stigmatization and discrimination, understandably believing that the societal indifference prevalent throughout their lives will also infect their end-of-life care.
  • Professor King continues. “Assisted suicide should not be legalized in America before we have addressed our glaring inequalities in health care and other crucial social services in a way that assures marginalized groups that they too will be treated with respect and dignity at the end of their lives.”
  • Similar concerns were expressed by Canada’s First Nations leaders last spring when Bill C-14 was introduced in Parliament.
  • Carrie Bourassa, an Indigenous health studies professor at the First Nations University of Canada, testified before a parliamentary committee that, “For some communities it may not even be possible [to implement Bill C-14]. When we’re trying to deal with suicide and multiple loss in communities, is this even a conversation that communities are going to want to have?”
  • Jack Anawak, a long-time Nunavut politician who is knowledgeable about Inuit history, told the CBC it’s unlikely many elders will use assisted suicide.  “It would only be considered because it became the law of the land, not because the Inuit have any wish to pursue it,” he said.
  • Anawak said the rare occasions where Inuit elders used to sacrifice themselves by leaving the group have been overdramatized by popular culture, and that people were not set adrift on ice floes.
  • François Paulette, a Dene leader and Chair of Yellowknife’s Elders’ Advisory Council of the Stanton Territorial Health Authority, also believes assisted suicide is not part of Aboriginal culture.
  • Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Indigenous Physicians Association said he’s worried there will be different or lower standards of care in Indigenous communities compared with other parts of the country.
  • Dr. Fontaine says First nations communities have a higher burden of disease, and many of the diseases tend to be more advanced.  Yet, he said that many rural communities use nursing stations as acute care centres, where nurses may not be trained in basic procedures such as resuscitation.
  • Overall, it seems that when people have struggled for survival during their lives, for whatever reason, the idea of assisted suicide, of throwing away that life, simply makes no sense.  And  when the threat to their lives comes from the dominant culture, through discrimination or poverty, the “offer” of assisted suicide from the dominant culture is understandably looked at with a great deal of suspicion.


  • On October 29, 2016, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition will hold its annual symposium in Windsor, Ontario.
  • The symposium will be held at the Best Western Waterfront Hotel, 277 Riverside Rd West Windsor (next to the Windsor/Detroit tunnel).
  • The Symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is followed by a dinner at 6 p.m. to honor Jean Echlin, EPC’s President.
  • For more information contact the EPC at info@epcc.ca or by calling 877-439-3348