The Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Bar Association Law for the Future Fund funded a study written by disability lawyer, Orville Endicott, which asks (answers) the question: Can safeguards protect the interests of vulnerable persons if physician-assisted death were legal?

Endicott, is a barrister and solicitor, who serves as part-time legal counsel to Community Living Ontario and as a legal consultant to various other disability-related organizations. Endicott examines the types of safeguards that would be needed to protect vulnerable people if assisted death were legal. He examines what would need to be guarded against, the current safeguards that exist in Canadian law, proposals to review and change Canadian law, the type of safeguards and the status of assisted death worldwide and his conclusions.

The study begins by outlining the issue of possible safeguards that could be implemented if assisted death were made legal in the light of the current attitudes and experiences of people with disabilities. This is important because people with disabilities are a vulnerable group who experience negative societal attitudes as a regular part of their life.

The primary philosophical support for euthanasia is represented by a demand for radical personal autonomy. Endicott examines the issue of personal autonomy as it relates to people with disabilities. Personal autonomy is a difficult concept to develop safeguards around for vulnerable persons who often have a diminished ability or opportunity to make decisions concerning self-determination. Many vulnerable people have other people who are responsible for making decisions for them.

Catherine Frazee, a former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, points out that: “relief from the psychic pain and the discomfort that is generally felt by the non-disabled in the presence of disability” is another personal interest that can influence choices made by individuals who have legal or de facto control over life and death decisions affecting persons with disabilities.

In other words, attitudes toward disability that are held by persons who are deciding the fate of vulnerable persons are often negative and sometimes result in the assisted death of the vulnerable person.

By examining the current statutes in Canada Endicott shows that our current law not only protects the vulnerable from imposed death but also from “failing to provide the necessities of life.”

The study examines the concept of adding a provision for “compassionate homicide” to our legal statutes. His examination shows that vulnerable persons would more likely be victimized by lesser penalties for murder rather than protected.

In reference to the issue of the decision to starve or dehydrate incompetent or terminally ill persons the study suggests that “Basic human functions such as eating and drinking should not be equated with measures which are only considered in response to illness or injury. Eating and drinking are everyday activities for every living person, and to the extent that it is possible they should continue to be so until death, and not be withdrawn as a means by which to cause death.”

This is a very important statement since medical professionals are becoming more supportive of removing food and fluids, even from those who are not otherwise dying.

The study examines whether a person with a disability is more likely to be given an assisted death in the Netherlands or Oregon, where assisted death is legal. Since the statistics aren’t specific to this question he was only able to assess that since the majority of assisted deaths are done on people who claim to have a lack of mobility, therefore it is likely that there is a higher rate of assisted death among people with disabilities.

The study concludes by stating that the crux of the debate over assisted death is the issue of personal autonomy. For people with disabilities the question is whether personal autonomy is a reliable safeguard. There lives are devalued and when the disability is “mental” in nature, there is a reasonable and valid concern that the individual’s personal wishes will not determine the outcome in any critical issue.

Therefore the study states that: “Until it can be convincingly demonstrated that all Canadians enjoy full equality and security of the person, regardless of disability, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then any steps toward legalized assistance in dying should be resisted.”

Since negative attitudes toward people with disabilities is prevalent in society, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition would suggest that legalized assistance in dying should never be supported by the disabled community.

Endicott’s report is significant for several reasons.

  • The study is written for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. This study should assure their continued opposition to assisted dying.
  • The study is written for the Canadian Bar Association “Law for the Future Fund.” This is an influential body for establishing future directions for Canadian law. If this study impedes future progression of the pro-euthanasia ideology in the legal community, then it has accomplished something significant.
  • This study has been written by a respected lawyer in a secular manner.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is convinced that Endicott’s study: Legalizing Physician-Assisted Death: Can Safeguards Protect the Interests of Vulnerable Persons? will have significant influence in Canada. This study should be read and used by all persons and groups who oppose legal assistance in dying. For more information on the study call the EPC toll free: 1-877-439-3348.