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Choosing death over disabled poverty

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THERE is something seriously wrong in a country when people are choosing suicide, in the form of medical assistance in dying (MAiD), because the state won’t address their disability issues. Yet, that’s what seems to have happened now twice in cases involving Ontario women who suffer(ed) from severe chemical sensitivities and struggled to find proper housing.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/06/2022 (243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THERE is something seriously wrong in a country when people are choosing suicide, in the form of medical assistance in dying (MAiD), because the state won’t address their disability issues. Yet, that’s what seems to have happened now twice in cases involving Ontario women who suffer(ed) from severe chemical sensitivities and struggled to find proper housing.

A 51-year-old woman in Toronto died in February after her search for affordable housing free of cigarette smoke and chemical cleaners failed. It may be the first time a person diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities has been provided assisted death.

The woman said she had tried for two years to work with multiple levels of government to find suitable housing. She finally gave up and applied for medically assisted suicide instead.

To make matters worse, food prices have started rising dramatically.

A second woman – Denise, a 31-year-old from Toronto – applied for MAiD at the beginning of May and has been waiting for final approval. She also suffers from multiple chemical sensitivities, and lives in a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury. She’s seeking assisted suicide because her disability payments in Ontario are forcing her to live in abject poverty. In other words, death was more suitable than living on a government-disability program.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Since Denise went public with her case, progress has finally been made on finding her suitable housing. According to CTV News, she has found a new home and a GoFundMe page has resulted in more than $65,000 in donations. Her future is much brighter, but she hasn’t cancelled her MAiD application just yet.

While these women may be outliers, the debate shouldn’t be about whether we’ve jumped the shark on medically assisted suicide. The debate should be about why our disabled aren’t sufficiently valued that they can receive the support they need to live safe, comfortable lives.

Of course, living in poverty when you’re disabled is a reality. One in four people living in poverty is disabled. In Manitoba, the Employment and Income Assistance program for people with disabilities pays on a sliding scale, starting at $1,093 a month for a single person with no children.

That’s far below minimum wage in this province, and any money made in addition to the monthly stipend is clawed back. In Toronto, Denise was attempting to live on $1,169 a month plus $50 for a special diet.

Federally, people may also be eligible for disability payments under the Canada Pension Plan, but an approval decision can take up to four months. The disability payments on CPP average $1,064 a month.

Earlier this week, a report from Canada’s auditor general, Karen Hogan, made it clear government agencies aren’t doing enough to help hard-to-reach populations such as disabled people get the benefits they deserve.

The Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada were called out for not having a “clear and complete picture of hard‑to‑reach populations who did not access the Canada Child Benefit, the Canada Workers Benefit, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, or the Canada Learning Bond. The Agency and the Department still lack a comprehensive plan to connect with the people who most need these benefits.”

Troubling statistics from Hogan’s report pinpointed disability benefits for veterans. In 80 per cent of cases, veterans applying for disability benefits for the first time waited a median of 39 weeks for a decision, more than double the department’s service standard of 16 weeks. RCMP veterans had to wait even longer for benefits decisions for first applications – almost a year.

During COVID-19, it became clear people with disabilities are considered expendable and secondary citizens. Canada had the worst record for COVID-19 fatalities in long-term care homes among other wealthy countries during the first wave of the pandemic.

Yet there have been few public hearings into the disproportionate toll the coronavirus took on disabled residents. Far too often, their deaths were excused because they were disabled.

Now, it seems, some people who are disabled are choosing death over the continuing ordeal of poverty brought on by bad policy design and governments at all levels that seem disinterested or disconnected. While we are debating the necessity of increasing the minimum wage to keep Manitoba competitive, maybe we should also look at our disability programs and improve them, too – to keep Manitoba compassionate.

Shannon Sampert is a communications consultant and former politics and perspectives editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. She was the Eakins Fellow for the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada for winter 2022.

shannon@mediadiva.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, June 2, 2022 7:58 AM CDT: Adds tile photo

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