Proponents of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) have spent years arguing that the practice is a humane way to alleviate the suffering of terminally ill patients. But Canada’s disturbing path since legalizing PAS six years ago proves this argument is false. Opponents of PAS have warned that legalizing the practice was a slippery slope that could lead to people seeking death for reasons other than terminal illness, and Canada is proving them right.
Canada legalized both physician-assisted suicide and direct euthanasia in June 2016, referring to them collectively as “medical assistance in dying” or “MAID”—euphemisms that distract from the dark reality of these practices. To be eligible for MAID, an applicant had to satisfy certain criteria. His or her death had to be “reasonably foreseeable,” among other requirements.
To be clear, physician-assisted suicide is morally reprehensible even under that criterion. But the requirement at least showed that Canadian lawmakers understood the need for some guardrail to regulate the practice.
Still, it took less than five years for Canada to eliminate that guardrail. In March 2021, the country’s parliament passed a new law that said citizens could be eligible for physician-assisted suicide even if their death was “not considered reasonably foreseeable”; rather, they had to be suffering from “a grievous irremediable medical condition” and “be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed.” These new guidelines allow people who are permanently disabled or have chronic pain to be eligible. To see the effects of this alarming change, one must look no further than Amir Farsoud of Ontario.
Farsoud is a 54-year-old man who suffered a debilitating back injury years ago, and he receives around $1,200 a month from the Ontario Disability Support Program. Even though he lives with two other people, the money is barely enough for him to survive.
In October, he told CityNews that his rent and bills left him with about $7 per day for food. When the house he was living in was put up for sale, he began to ponder the unthinkable: choosing assisted suicide to avoid poverty.
“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be homeless more than I don’t want to die,” Farsoud said. “I know, in my present health condition, I wouldn’t survive it anyway. It wouldn’t be at all dignified waiting, so if that becomes my two options, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.”
Farsoud said he wouldn’t be contemplating suicide if it were not for his housing situation. But because of fears he could not find anywhere else affordable to live, he applied for MAID, and he received a signature from a doctor confirming he met the criteria.
Thankfully, Canada requires a minimum of 90 days to assess eligibility for MAID for someone who is not terminally ill, and also requires the approval of two doctors. During the 90-day timeframe, Farsoud’s story was widely shared on social media. A stranger started a GoFundMe for him that ended up raising $60,000, and Farsoud told CityNews in November he is no longer considering suicide.
“I’m a different person,” Farsoud said. “The first time we spoke, I had nothing but darkness, misery, stress, and hopelessness. Now I have all the opposite of those things.”
While Farsoud chose life, sadly, many others have not. In the first six years of Canada’s MAID program, over 31,000 people have died by physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.
What’s more, some states in the U.S. are following Canada’s lead and decreasing the crucial waiting period during which people like Farsoud might find hope. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law in October 2021 reducing the waiting period for physician-assisted suicide from 15 days to 48 hours.
The state’s law requires health-care professionals to assist patients’ access, upon their request, to an assisted suicide. Thus, doctors who hold to basic medical-ethics principles (e.g., “do no harm”) face a terrible choice: either participate in the physician-assisted suicide process or potentially lose their practice and face civil or criminal penalties. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have filed a lawsuit against California challenging this law, representing the Christian Medical & Dental Associations.
In Canada, only non-terminally ill applicants are subject to the 90-day waiting period for MAID. As of March 2021, those who are terminally ill are no longer subject to a waiting period after their application for MAID is approved.
Proponents of physician-assisted suicide would like people to believe Farsoud represents a fringe case that should not be used as an argument against MAID. In reality, his story underscores the inevitable result of a flawed and evil law and a culture of death.
Instead of providing the most vulnerable in society with the quality care and support they need, the Canadian government has decided it would simply be easier to give them lethal drugs upon request.
There is nothing compassionate or dignified about physician-assisted suicide. Once you say it is better to die than to live with a disease, it’s no surprise society begins viewing death as an alternative to other types of suffering like poverty or loneliness.
But every life has value, including the lives of the vulnerable—which the practice of physician-assisted suicide specifically targets. Farsoud’s case highlights this truth.