Medical Model Peaks Its Ugly Head in the Lives of Canadians with Disabilities

Rabia Khedr (4th from left) at a Dec 2020 DEEN Support Services event in Mississauga

During this COVID-19 crisis in the healthcare system and by extension in all of society, do I have hope professionals balance the interests of us Canadians who believe in the sanctity of life unconditionally, especially us living with disabilities who have little faith in the medical model of disability?

As a disability rights activist, in 2016, I said “kudos” to the Quebec Panel for making assisted suicide a healthcare jurisdiction – now known as MAID or Medical Assistance in Dying. Did Madam Justice in B.C. open Pandora’s Box back in 2012? Did she advance justice in this country in her decision exemplifying equality rights under the Charter to ensure equal access for all? She certainly opened the door to Quebec in 2014 legalizing the practice and to a case at the Supreme Court of Canada hence striking out this law in 2015 and requiring the federal government to bring new legislation forward in 2016.

Since the 1930s, Canada has had an ugly history of eugenics through provincially sanctioned sterilization programs targeting people with disabilities. Medical experts, or rather doctors, have their philosophical perspectives whether determined by faith, oaths, ethics or science. Unfortunately, they often cannot see beyond the medical model of treatment and repair to measure quality of life and survivability. Doctors are not immunized against mistakes. Let’s not forget their errors in history.

We don’t choose to be born, but we are and in whatever form of embodiment. Why do we then allow anyone to choose to end life? MAID has deeper social consequences, both moral and ethical. Although contentious, MAID is politically acceptable. The slippery slope has begun.  

There is no such thing as absolute in terms of equality and rights. The charter protects and balances the interests of the individual in relation to others. My rights do not trump another individual’s rights. In this pandemic state and healthcare crisis, we are discussing prioritizing who gets treated (whether in the case of debilitating diseases, age-related disablement or severe born with impairments). What is this the beginning of? Could it lead to eugenics all over again? The crafters of those policies meant well you know. Many more Tracy Latimers may be chosen to die, and the question would remain “whose suffering did we end?”

No matter how hard we have worked as a society to ensure there is no place for discrimination, we know that tendencies to discriminate are rooted institutionally and individually. We have not eliminated racism, ableism, sexism, ageism…. Are we opening the door to undermine our accomplishments in human rights, especially for people with disabilities. Meanwhile, we create an ironic sense of inequality among Canadians with disabilities re-enforcing a sense of a hierarchy of disability.

Can we have so much faith in the system to be confident that no one will ever misuse this right? We will never know unless we collect data on race, disability and other identities as we ration supports and services in this COVID crisis.

Rabia Khedr is CEO of DEEN Support Services, a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, public speaker, disability rights activist and former Human Rights Commissioner.

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