Physician-Assisted Suicide / Physician-Assisted Dying / End Of Life Issues

The issue
A form of euthanasia called physician-assisted dying is increasingly being used to end the lives of persons with disabilities.

Our position:
CAD-ASC is concerned about the threat this form of euthanasia presents to persons with disabilities, including Deaf people. PAS-PAD is often implemented without ensuring clear and appropriate communication with the patient, which places Deaf people in jeopardy.

CAD-ASC is concerned about the threat this form of euthanasia presents to persons with disabilities, including Deaf people. PAS-PAD is often implemented without ensuring clear and appropriate communication with the patient, which places Deaf people in jeopardy.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada acknowledges that many people with terminal illnesses suffer terribly and prefer to end their suffering through PAS-PAD. We respect their decision as long as they are lucid and are able to express, clearly and repeatedly, in the presence of neutral witnesses, that they wish to die.

However, we see PAS-PAD as a threat to people with disabilities. We remember that Robert Latimer decided his young daughter Tracy was suffering so much from her disabilities that he was justified in murdering her. By all accounts, Tracy was a happy child who enjoyed life. Her disabilities made it impossible for her to express whether or not she wished to die. The decision was taken out of her hands, and so was her life.

In the United States, Dr. Jack Kevorkian invented a “suicide machine” that he used to help many people kill themselves. Over 90 percent of his victims were people with disabilities, not people with terminal illnesses. He was not helping sick people die with dignity, he was murdering disabled people. Yet he is considered a hero by many able-bodied people.

PAS-PAD is the start of state-approved euthanasia of disabled persons. In Holland, PAS-PAD was legalized, and within one year doctors were legally killing newborn babies if they had a disability. Moreover, at least 80 percent of the adults killed through PAS-PAD had disabilities rather than terminal illness.

This is a direct threat to Deaf people. The decision to kill disabled people is frequently made for them by other people because the disability involves communication barriers. Tracy Latimer is a perfect example: she was unable to speak or write, therefore she was unable to communicate that she did not want to die. The implications for Deaf people, who cannot hear, sometimes cannot speak so as to be understood, and sometimes cannot write in clear English or French, are very obvious.

Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing people face communication barriers that can very easily lead doctors to think they are consenting to PAS-PAD if they get a severe illness and if they are not provided with interpreters or experts in deafness / hearing loss to help them express their wishes. Also, it must be realized that in many countries, deafness is considered such a terrible thing that killing a deaf person would be considered an act of mercy.

CAD-ASC believes that a better option for persons with terminal illnesses is hospice palliative care. Such facilities provide people with professional care, comfortable surroundings, the companionship of friends and supporters, and all services necessary to ease their transition to a natural death. Trained professionals are available for all kinds of disabilities, including Deaf and Signing medical professionals, facilities with visual alarms and communication technology, and so on.

In summary, our position is this:

  1. We advocate for hospice palliative care, which is aimed at relief of suffering and improving the quality of living and dying, as the first choice over PAS-PAD in every case. Terminally-ill people and their families need to know that there is an option to die amid peaceful, comfortable surroundings with professional health-care available to help them manage the pain until they die naturally. Hospice palliative care strives to help patients and families address physical, psychological, social, spiritual, cultural and practical issues; prepare for and manage self-determined closure and the dying process; and cope with loss and grief during the illness and bereavement.
  2. We recognize that some people may be in such pain from terminal illness (not from disability alone) that they do not wish to prolong their life; we do not oppose PAS-PAD in these cases as long as the patient has voluntarily expressed his/her wish to die and has not just “given consent” to someone else’s assumption that he/she wants to die.
  3. We oppose PAS-PAD in the case of any person who is Deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing, even if that person has expressed the wish to die, unless and until two or more qualified Deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing health-caregivers have ensured that the person has communicated clearly and has understood other people’s communications about dying.

APPROVED: 3 JULY 2015

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 1X3
(613) 565-2882
www.cad.ca