Statement provided 24 November 2020 ahead of Report 4 submitted to the House of Commons on 25 November 2020. Coverage of this statement and others can be seen here.
I am here to call for a re-think of this end of life legislation, and ask for the safeguards of due process to be included.
The central question before Parliament, expectedly soon the Senate, and indeed our country, through this legislation, will be where does the empowerment found in the assertion of autonomy end, and where does a subtle form of benign oppression that says, “your life is less important than mine even if that means your death” begin? It is my opinion that the proposed legislation creeps over the line of dignity diminishing its importance.
For several weeks after my accident, a spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down, I lay in bed close to death more times then I wish to contemplate. While faced with that impending reality was an understanding that most of my body would not ever again move the way it had just a short while ago. I had lost mobility, liberty, sense of purpose, and now bed ridden in a hospital, all autonomy. Emerging, and many of you may believe this to be paradoxical, was an eagerness to embrace life in its multiplicity of rigours and joy. I also had the benefit of profound love and support in my life during the early days after my injury.
As I proceeded through rehabilitation then a career in non-government organization leadership and a law practice focused on human rights and health law I have seen that my story is not the same for far too many people facing tragic circumstances and catastrophic injuries. Indeed, all too frequently I observe that in the face of broad discrimination and barriers, my disabled peers and clients seriously contemplate suicide due to environmental rather than physical maladies.
Should the person trusted most with an individual’s health right after a serious injury or illness, the specialist saving their life, were to advise without prompting that medical assistance in death were a rational next step the limits of autonomy and liberty would be subsumed by an implied promotion of assisted suicide. This is particularly true if death is not reasonably foreseeable. The proposed legislation is a bridge too far. It will send the clear message, ”you may kill yourself, and we will help you.”
Our legal system has been founded on fairness and due process for all with equal measure since time immemorial. This legislation ignores these core constitutional principles developed over centuries. Bill C7 creates at best a denial of constitutional norms, and at worse rationalized expediency resulting in the extinguishment of life.
We cannot get this wrong. The consequences are too high for our country, and for the individuals whom the law will impact.
David Shannon is a Canadian disability/human rights activist, lawyer, author, and adventurer. After a devastating spinal injury in a rugby scrum at University in 1981 he was rendered a quadriplegic. Subsequently, David finished a Masters of Law degree at the London School of Economics, and has continued in his law practice and non government organization leadership since then. His Dave Shannon Cross-Canada Tour in 1997 gained national media attention as he became the first quadriplegic to trek across Canada in a motorized wheelchair, and in 2009 he set another first by going to the North Pole celebrating the message that seemingly insurmountable barriers can be overcome.
Shannon has won numerous prestigious awards and honours, such as the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada for his work advancing the rights of disabled persons and other minority groups in Canada and abroad.