Tackle anti-Indigenous racism in healthcare before expanding medical assistance in dying, advocate says

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Alberta health advocate says Liberal government should know many Indigenous people feel unsafe getting healthcare due to stigma and racism

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OTTAWA – Federal government should not extend access to physician-assisted dying to people with only serious mental illness as Indigenous people live in conditions linked to higher rates of mental illness and suicide, says Tyler White from Siksika Health Services in Alberta.

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White, the organization’s chief executive, joined Conservative MP Michael Cooper at a press conference to oppose proposed reforms to Canada’s rules on physician-assisted dying. He argued that it is unfair to provide access to medical assistance in dying to Indigenous people when basic care and compassion has not been provided.

“Vulnerable people must be protected from being pressured, in times of weakness, to end their life,” he said.

He said such a decision does not take into account the inequalities that indigenous peoples face.

He called the Liberal government’s consultation with Indigenous leaders on the new law trivial and said the government should know that many Indigenous people feel insecure about getting health care due to stigma and racism. .

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Vulnerable people must be protected from being pressured, in times of weakness, to end their life

Parliament is working on Bill C-7, which would expand access to physician-assisted dying.

It would extend access to assisted dying to people suffering from intolerable suffering who are not approaching the natural end of their life, bringing the law in line with a decision of the Superior Court of Quebec in 2019.

The House of Commons passed a version of the bill in December; the Senate has since amended it to further expand access, possibly including to those whose only affliction is severe and irremediable mental illness, and has sent the revised text back to the House of Commons.

The Liberals have agreed with the Senate that some people with only mental illnesses should be eligible for medical assistance in dying – but not for two years, so that the issue can be studied.

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Cooper, the MP for St. Albert-Edmonton, said the government’s acceptance of the Senate amendment was “reckless.”

“This radically expands Canada’s regime of physician-assisted dying and will certainly put even more vulnerable Canadians at risk,” he said.

He said that the most important criterion to be eligible for medical assistance in dying, as stated by the Supreme Court of Canada, is that one must suffer from a serious and irremediable illness.

“When we talk about mental health, it is not possible to determine, it is not possible to predict whether someone will get better or recover,” he said.

Cooper said the government was moving forward with the amendment despite a lack of consensus within the medical community and despite the fact that there had been no formal study by Parliament of such a drastic change. .

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“This government is seeking to ram through Bill C-7, which is now significantly different from the bill that was passed in the fall and sent to the Senate, in a cynical effort to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.”

The Bloc Québécois has declared that it will support the response of the Liberal minority government to the Senate amendment, ensuring that it will be adopted.

Dr John Maher, president of the Ontario Association for ACT & FACT, which promotes ‘aggressive community treatment’ for people with severe mental illness, said the Liberal government is pushing the C-7 as Canadians are grappling with a pandemic that has exacerbated social disparities. and pushed a lot into the depths of despair.

Offering death to impoverished, under-treated and suicidal people is discriminatory

“How can a human being in good conscience ignore the loud cries of hundreds of organizations of persons with disabilities, mental health organizations, medical associations, indigenous peoples, religious organizations, the United Nations and our citizens who know the wounds inflicted by racism, ageism and ableism? ”he said.

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“Offering death to impoverished, under-treated and suicidal people is discriminatory. “

Maher said medical assistance in dying should only be offered to people with a terminal illness.

“(Medical assistance in dying) for a non-terminal illness is suicide using a sanitized gun in a white coat,” he said.

White said the new law threatens the efforts of Indigenous peoples to address the youth suicide crisis in Indigenous communities.

“It sends the wrong message to those who don’t get out, that the only way to improve their suffering is to choose death,” he said.

“Our message to our young people is that suicide is not the answer.”

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