Webcast archive: 17/08/25

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

  • Council of Canadian Academies’ MAID expansion: mature minors
  • Assisted suicide bills in New Zealand and Australia

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

COUNCIL OF CANADIAN ACADEMIES “MAID” EXPANSION: MATURE MINORS

  • The preamble to Bill C-14 – Canada’s assisted suicide legislation – specifies three possible expansions of assisted suicide to mature minors, people with psychiatric disabilities, and those requesting assisted suicide in an advanced directive. Health Canada has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to study each of these areas. Today and over the next two weeks, we will look at each of these topics. Today’s webcast will focus on assisted suicide for “mature minors.”
  • Ill and disabled children often grow up in families where non-disabled parents see their lives as burdensome, tragic, a disappointment of their hopes for the future, and “not worth living.” The child’s disability, rather than the discrimination the family faces, is thought to be the source of the family’s problems. When these beliefs and feelings are accepted by the child, the result is low self-esteem.
  • Ill and disabled children, who may be the only disabled person in the family, lack positive role models at home and in popular culture, and are usually isolated from other disabled people with a positive view of themselves.
  • This experience, of being isolated from peers and the subject of parents’ negative feelings, is very similar to that of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children growing up in a homophobic society.  And as with LGBT kids, disabled teens are at higher risk for suicide.
  • Parents who kill their disabled children are given more lenient treatment than those who kill non-disabled children, reflecting society’s devaluation of the lives of disabled children. Of 35 cases of parents who were sentenced for killing their disabled children, 15 received no jail time.  Eight more received up to five years in jail, and nine more spent less than 20 years in prison.  This compares to an average sentence of 30 years for child murder where the child is not disabled.
  • Parents ordering surgery for their disabled children to make them easier to care for is another way disabled children are devalued.  For example the Ashley Treatment (named for the first person known to have had it) involves removing a child’s sex organs and stunting their growth with hormones so that they can never become adults.
  • Disabled children face a much higher risk of abuse than non-disabled children. They are often conditioned to be compliant in many painful and invasive situations – for example, medical treatment and personal care.  This makes them ideal victims of abuse, while denying the pain they feel and the lack of privacy they experience.
  • On top of that, ill and disabled children face the same teenage troubles as non-disabled kids, and some studies have found they are even more likely to attempt suicide.
  • Why should non-disabled adolescents benefit from suicide prevention, while ill and disabled youth are encouraged and enabled to kill themselves?
  • A case in point was that of Jerika Bolen who died in September of 2016.  Jerika, who had a neuromuscular disability, received widespread support and thousands of dollars in donations for a “Last Dance” when she publicly announced that she wanted to go to hospice to die.   Activists with similar disabilities expressed concern about whether Jerika was receiving good health care and pain management.  Disability rights activists also questioned the outpouring of public support for her death, while society pledges to prevent the suicide of non-disabled teens.
  • In fact, just this morning we learned of a 19-year-old in England, Tommy Swales, who had Friedreich’s Ataxia, who killed himself because of depression.  He had talked about his desire to commit suicide to his mother and on social media.
  • Many laws, such as those forbidding underage use of tobacco and alcohol, limit teenagers’ freedom in order to prevent self-inflicted harm. Preventing people under 18 years of age from having assisted suicide would be consistent with current public policy.

ASSISTED SUICIDE BILLS IN NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA

  • Last month, a Ministerial Advisory Panel in the Australian state of Victoria released recommendations for assisted suicide legislation.
  • The panel recommended that citizens and permanent residents who are 18 or older and have “sound decision-making capacity” should be able to request drugs from their doctor in order to end their lives. In cases where the person cannot self-administer the drug, a doctor may do it for them. Therefore, assisted suicide and euthanasia would be permitted.
  • The person’s medical condition must be predicted to cause death within 12 months, and cause “suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that is tolerable to the person.” Death certificates would record the person’s condition as the cause of death. The bill is expected to be brought forward in the state parliament in September; if passed, it would come into force in 2019.
  • Meanwhile, in New Zealand– the End of Life Choices Act is awaiting first reading. In this case, the person’s condition must be “grievous and irremediable” and “in an advanced state of irreversible decline” or cause death within 6 months. Eligible citizens and permanent residents must be able to understand the “nature” and “consequences” of assisted death. A variety of methods must be proposed to the person, including oral consumption and IV delivery initiated by the person, injection by another person, or delivery via feeding tube. The death certificates must include both the person’s condition and a reference to assisted suicide.
  • At the same time, the New Zealand Parliament’s Health Committee has just released the results of a two-year inquiry into the topic of assisted suicide.  The Committee refused to endorse assisted suicide and euthanasia, citing public safety concerns.