When Canada changed its laws in 2016 to permit euthanasia, voters were assured the lethal injections would only be available for seriously ill adults who needed to hasten a looming death and end their suffering.
Much has changed these past seven years.
The government is now weighing whether to extend euthanasia to children and the mentally ill. It has even funded an activity book for youngsters to learn about Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD), as it is known.
In another worrying sign, a top medical body in the French-speaking eastern province of Quebec says lethal injections should be made available to seriously ill newborns.
Supporters of assisted suicide say they help some very sick people end their agony. Critics say they are the start of a slippery slope that sees ever-more vulnerable people ending their lives prematurely.
‘Now we’ve legalized euthanasia, everything’s turning upside down,’ Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, a campaign group, told DailyMail.com. ‘It used to be seen as a last resort. Now, we think in terms of denying people a service that should be available to them.’
Canada’s government-funded assisted suicide activity book for children ‘normalizes something that is egregiously wrong,’ says campaigner Mike Schouten
An 11-day-old baby suffering from heart problems about to be transferred to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Canadian medical chiefs have started debating whether to offer euthanasia to very sick newborns (file photo)
Schadenberg and others were stunned recently by a ‘MAiD Activity Book’ aimed at helping children understand why a relative would choose euthanasia, and how the process works.
Critics point to the innocent, child-like language used in the 26-page government-funded booklet to explain a process that is, for many, macabre.
‘A doctor or nurse practitioner uses medicines to stop the person’s body from working,’ says the booklet.
‘When their body stops working, the person dies.’
It describes euthanasia as a last-ditch procedure reserved for consenting adults afflicted with a sickness or disability that ‘hurts their body or their mind so much that it feels too hard to keep living.’
It explains how MAiD drugs make recipients doze off and lapse into a coma before a ‘third medicine … makes the person’s lungs stop breathing and then their heart stops beating.
‘The person does not notice this happening and it does not hurt,’ adds the book, which was written by Ceilidh Eaton Russell, a McMaster University lecturer and an expert on child grief.
‘When their heart and lungs stop working, their body dies. It will not start working again.’
The book was published last year by Canadian Virtual Hospice, a palliative care group, using Health Canada funding. It’s available online, but was not distributed widely in schools or libraries.
Young readers are invited to color in pictures and share their feelings about MAiD.
The revelation comes as Canadian politicians decide whether to let minors end their lives with lethal injection.
Dying With Dignity, which campaigns for assisted suicides, says children as young as 12 should be entitled to euthanasia, once a parent or guardian has given their consent.
That limit is too high for Dr Louis Roy, from the Quebec College of Physicians — he says newborns who enter the world with ‘severe malformations’ or ‘grave and severe syndromes’ should be entitled to a doctor-aided death.
The activity book has illustrations to be colored in, and spaces for youngsters to add their own thoughts about assisted suicide
Critics point to the innocent, child-like language used in the 26-page government-funded booklet to explain a process that is, for many, macabre
The book was published last year by Canadian Virtual Hospice, a palliative care group, using Health Canada funding. It’s available online, but was not distributed widely in schools or libraries
Some 10,000 adults now end their lives each year by state-sanctioned euthanasia in the world’s most permissive program of its kind
Dr Louis Roy, from the Quebec College of Physicians, says euthanasia should be available to sick newborns
Addressing Canada’s Special Joint Committee on MAiD late last year, Dr Roy said euthanasia should be available to ‘babies from 0-1 years … whose life expectancy and level of suffering mean it would make sense to ensure they do not suffer.’
Spokeswoman Leslie Labranche this week told DailyMail.com this remains the group’s policy.
The committee of top politicians last month released its long-awaited report, recommending that ‘mature minors’ whose deaths were ‘reasonably foreseeable’ could access assisted suicide, even without parental consent.
In their 138-page report, members said the procedure — typically a lethal injection administered by a doctor — should be available to children most likely aged between 14 and 17 ‘whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.’
The document and its 23 recommendations will be discussed in the House of Commons in the coming months and could prompt revisions of Canada’s MAiD laws as early as this year, though no draft bill has yet been proposed.
A Health Canada spokesman told DailyMail.com the government ‘has no plans to alter the minimum age requirement to access MAiD’ at present, but that it ‘will consider’ the committee’s advice.
Critics warn that disabled Canadian kids could soon be joining the roughly 10,000 adults who end their lives each year by state-sanctioned euthanasia in the world’s most permissive program of its kind.
Meghan Schrader, 40, an autistic woman and instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, says the book has the potential to harm any vulnerable children who read it.
‘It’s a very cruel message to send to disabled children that will make them grow up programmed to accept fourth-class citizenship,’ she told Dailymail.com.
Amy Hasbrouck (left), a Quebec-based campaigner for Not Dead Yet, and Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for the Association for Reformed Political Action, say sick Canadian kids will end up dying prematurely
Euthanasia is legal in seven countries — Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain — plus several states in Australia
Worse still, expanding MAiD access will expose disabled minors to the kind of abuse she endured when she was young: being told that she was a ‘retarded animal’ who was better off dead. Some will be influenced into actually ending their lives.
‘When doctor-assisted suicide is extended to children, the abuse and oppression they already experience will become even uglier,’ she said.
‘Disabled children will be taunted by peers, and influenced by their families and the viciously ableist cultural narratives.’
Mike Schouten, director of advocacy for the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA), said he was worried by an activity book that ‘normalizes something that is egregiously wrong.
‘Children need to know that they are valued and loved, and by indoctrinating them with pro-euthanasia propaganda we are setting them up for suicidal thoughts when they face suffering and hardship as they mature into adults,’ he said.
Amy Hasbrouck, a Quebec-based campaigner for Not Dead Yet, warned that extending euthanasia to children would frequently lead to decisions by ‘parents who feel overwhelmed by having an ill or disabled child.
‘Children with disabilities, chronic and terminal illness are strongly influenced by the stress and distress experienced by their families,’ Hasbrouck told DailyMail.com.
‘Even where parents don’t ask for assisted death on a child’s behalf, the child may feel responsible, and volunteer to remove themselves via euthanasia. Most of the people I know who grew up with a disability struggled with such feelings.’
Many Canadians support euthanasia and Dying With Dignity says the procedure is ‘driven by compassion, an end to suffering and discrimination and desire for personal autonomy.’
But human rights advocates say the country’s regulations lack necessary safeguards, devalue the lives of disabled people, and are prompting doctors and health workers to suggest the procedure to those who might not otherwise consider it.
It’s not yet clear whether the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (center) would immediately push for expanded access of assisted suicide to children
Euthanasia is legal in seven countries — Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain — plus several states in Australia.
It’s only available to children in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Other jurisdictions, including a growing number of US states, allow doctor-assisted suicide — in which patients take the drug themselves, typically crushing up and drinking a lethal dose of pills prescribed by a physician.
In Canada, both options are referred to as MAiD, though more than 99.9 percent of such procedures are carried out by a doctor. There were more than 10,000 such deaths in 2021, an increase of about a third from the previous year.
Canada’s road to allowing euthanasia began in 2015, when its top court declared that outlawing assisted suicide deprived people of their dignity and autonomy. It gave national leaders a year to draft legislation.
The resulting 2016 law legalized both euthanasia and assisted suicide for people aged 18 and over, provided they met certain conditions: They had to have a serious, advanced condition, disease, or disability that was causing suffering and their death was looming.
The law was later amended to allow people who are not terminally ill to choose death, significantly broadening the number of eligible people. Critics say that change removed a key safeguard aimed at protecting people with potentially decades of life left.
Today, any adult with a serious illness, disease, or disability can seek help in dying.