TORONTO, ON – The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) is distressed to have learned of the death of Alan Nichols, a British Columbia man with a disability and mental illness who died with medical assistance despite, in his family’s view, being in a state of mental health crisis. Right now, doctors are able to interpret Canada’s medical assistance in dying law more broadly than ever intended; otherwise, Nichols, a vulnerable person in a moment of crisis, would never have been able to sign off on his death.

Alan Nichols was admitted to Chilliwack General Hospital in June, suffering from dehydration and malnourishment. Unbeknownst to family members, who were notified just four days before the procedure, Nichols was approved for doctor-assisted death. His family, who did not believe he met the eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying, were unable to intervene in his case; on July 26 at 10:00am, Alan Nichols life was ended through lethal injection.

“So much more could have been done to improve Alan’s quality of life,” says Krista Carr, Executive Vice President of CACL, “Alan was living in poverty, lacked access to the disability supports needed to live without stress, and does not appear to have been connected to appropriate community-based mental health services. This is exactly why we need the end-of-life criterion to remain in the law – deaths like Alan’s cannot be normalized.”

Nichols’ death brings to light the immense discretion some medical professionals have taken upon themselves when assessing patients for medical assistance in dying. With such application of the law gaining popularity, in clear conflict with the intent of the legislation, Canada’s medical assistance in dying system appears to be quickly moving towards enabling access to based solely on a person’s, and others’ perception of intolerable suffering.

The Alan Nichols case, along with many others reported in the media, signal the critical need to review and clarify the medical assistance in dying law. A review mandated in the legislation is set to begin in 2020. However, in order for the law as written to still be in place at that time, the Attorney General must appeal the Quebec Superior Court’s recent decision in the Truchon and Gladu case, which struck down the end of life criterion as unconstitutional.

Advocates like Carr and Joy Bacon, President of CACL, urge the Attorney General to appeal contending that without the end of life criterion, deaths like Nichols’ will become more routine.

“This is my main concern with the Truchon and Gladu decision,” shares Joy Bacon, President of CACL, “that stigma and medical assistance in dying are entangled and inseparable. Without the firm line that is the end of life criterion, there is more space for stereotyping and discrimination to seep into the medical assistance in dying system. By steering people who are oppressed and suffering toward assisted death, Canada will be feeding back into stigmatizing narratives, telling Canadians that some lives are more worthwhile than others.”

Canada’s monitoring system has failed to identify when injustices like Alan Nichols’ death take place. This is in part because Canada only asks the three or four medical professionals who played an active role in a particular death to report on their participation. There is no space for direct reporting from the person seeking an assisted death or for families to share their experiences. Catherine Frazee is correct in raising that “we have no way of knowing how many might have been in situations similar to Alan” and this is deeply concerning.

There is an urgent need for Parliament to provide clear guidance on the reasonable foreseeability of natural death criteria. Therefore, the Attorney General must appeal the Truchon and Gladu decision to ensure that vulnerable Canadians are not at risk both within the medical system and society at large. What is at risk if Canada doesn’t appeal Truchon and Gladu? Ask Alan Nichols’ family.

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Marc Muschler, Senior Communications Officer, Canadian Association for Community Living. Ph: 416-661-9611 ext. 232 or Email: mmuschler@cacl.ca

The Canadian Association for Community Living is a Canada-wide association of family members and others working to advance the human rights and inclusion of persons of all ages who have an intellectual disability. Founded in 1958 by parents of children with intellectual disabilities who wanted supports and services within the community instead of in institutions, CACL has become one of Canada’s ten largest charitable organizations, and has grown into a federation of 10 provincial and three territorial associations comprising of 400 local associations and over 40,000 members. Find out more at www.cacl.ca.