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Human rights commissioner: Beware of assisted dying as ‘shame relief’

by Joanne Laucius, Ottawa Citizen, 16 October 2016

no-iptc-info-found22Catherine Frazee was Ontario’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner between 1989 and 1992. She was a professor of disability studies at Ryerson University until her retirement in 2010, and has spinal muscular atrophy.

Professor Frazee says that “We cannot understand vulnerability, or protect vulnerable persons, without first grappling with inducement.”


Inducement is something attractive that leads or persuades someone to take action. And relief from frailty, dependence, incontinence and immobility is an inducement for many seeking assisted death, she said. 

“If shame is a kind of social pain, and if we are in the business of protecting vulnerable persons from inducement, then I think we do need to be attentive to the forces and structures, policies and practices that produce it,” she said.

Society is “able-ist” — it prizes independence and those who are autonomous, able and productive, she said. The ideal is based on the expectation that everyone will have the same kind of body for all of their lives — and preys on the fear of losing ability.

Frazee is concerned that severely disabled people who cannot access the kind of care they need will “choose” assisted death out of desperation, and points to the case of Archie Rolland, a 52-year-old Montreal man with advanced ALS who requested and received assisted death earlier this year.

Rolland was eligible for assisted death and chose it, but that was because he could not get the care he needed, said Frazee. In a series of emails with a Montreal Gazette reporter, Rolland said he was tired of fighting for compassionate care in his long-term care facility, calling his situation “unbearable.”

“What Mr. Rolland wanted was not too much to ask – simple respect and excellent care,” she said. “When Archie Rolland could not, after persistent attempts, have what he wanted, he chose assisted death. And that choice was honoured.”

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