Euthanasia by Poverty: Stories from Canada

Posted on May 7, 2024 By

by Sarah Terzo


Canada’s Medical Aid in Dying law took effect in June 2016. The law allows those with disabilities or chronic illnesses to be killed by a doctor at their request.

Many stories have come out about disabled people “choosing” euthanasia because of poverty or inability to get treatment.

A Charity Worker Speaks Out

Meghan Nicholls

As of 2023, over 1.5 million disabled Canadians were living in poverty. Many of them are turning to MAID.

Charities that help poor disabled people have noticed the problem. Meghan Nicholls, CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank, said:

We’re at the point where clients on these programs are telling us they’re considering medically assisted death or suicide because they can’t live in grinding poverty anymore.

A client in our Food Bank 2 Home delivery program told one of our staff that they’re considering suicide because they’re so tired of suffering through poverty. Another client asked if we knew how to apply for MAID (medical assistance in dying) for the same reasons…

When people start telling us they’re going to end their life because they can’t live in poverty anymore, it’s clear that we’ve failed them.

Getting Approved for Government Assistance and Being Turned Down

One example is 33-year-old Rose Finlay. Last June, Finlay, a paraplegic, requested MAID because she was unable to find personal care support. She had once run her own business, but her condition worsened, and she couldn’t pay her support workers.

She applied to the Ontario Disability Support Program but was told it would take at least six to eight months to get approved. Euthanasia would be approved in 90 days.

Finlay said, “It’s not what I want. But if I don’t receive the support that I need, the outcome is the same . . . I would like to have other options.”

Rose Finlay with one of her three sons; picture submitted to several media outlets by Rose Finlay.

A woman going by “Madeline” with myalgic encephalomyelitis turned to crowdfunding to pay for the help she needed after being turned down five times for government assistance. She has arranged for her death through euthanasia if she runs out of money.

She said, “I found treatments, but I can’t afford them . . . MAID, for me, is not a life and death choice. It’s about what kind of death I want when I run out of money.”

Sathya Dhara Kovac, 44, died of euthanasia, which she “chose” because the government refused to provide enough care hours. Before she died, she said, “Ultimately it was not a genetic disease that took me out, it was a system . . . I could have had more time if I had more help.”

Her friend Shayla Brantnall said:

She accepted the changes in her body, but without enough support, how could anyone keep going? . . . You’re constantly stressed, you’re constantly struggling, like, ‘How am I going to get to the bathroom? How am I going to eat food?’ That’s not really a great quality of life either.

Once again, the cause of her “request” wasn’t her disability, but a lack of money for care.

Tracey Thompson suffered from long covid. She couldn’t get approved for assistance, which, even if granted, would barely cover her rent and would leave her with nothing for other expenses.

Choosing euthanasia, she said, was “exclusively a financial consideration.”

She also said, “I’m very happy to be alive. I still enjoy life. Birds chirping, small things that make up a day are still pleasant to me, they’re still enjoyable. I still enjoy my friends.”

But with no income, she didn’t feel she could survive.

Lack of Appropriate Housing

Michael Fraser qualified for euthanasia because of liver disease, incontinence, and the inability to walk.

He died because his apartment, which was on the second floor, had become a prison, and he couldn’t afford to move anywhere else.

The doctor who killed him, Dr. Navindra Persaud, struggled with the decision.

Persaud said:

Professional standards were met. It’s legal, but I do feel guilty. I’m conflicted about it . . . There were a number of factors that led to Michael’s decision, and I think poverty was one of them . . .

Sometimes poverty is pushing people to MAID who can be helped by other supports. For sure, I think the fact that he had trouble paying his rent made it harder for him to be in this world.

51-year-old “Sophia” had multiple chemical sensitivities. She did everything she could to get access to safe housing but was turned down and denied it at every turn. So, she died by euthanasia.

Rohini Peris, President of the Environmental Health Association of Québec, said of her case:

This person begged for help for years, two years, wrote everywhere, called everywhere, asking for healthy housing . . . It’s not that she didn’t want to live. She couldn’t live that way.

Dr. Riina Bray, who treats people with her condition, said, “It was an easy fix. She just needed to be helped to find a suitable place to live, where there wasn’t smoke wafting in through the vents.”

Lack of Resources and Poor Quality Care

Paraplegic Jacques Comeau was getting in-home care from orderlies that had worked with him for years. But the local health center began sending new orderlies who gave poor care. One orderly left him sitting in his waste. They made mistakes with his procedures, causing him pain.

So, he chose euthanasia.

Adèle Liliane Ngo Mben Nkoth, an accessibility advocate, said about his case, “Everywhere in Quebec, we see this … It’s deplorable to see that … we find ourselves in these situations for a country so rich as ours.”

Dr. Paul Saba from Lachine Hospital said:

People are choosing it because they can’t get proper housing, can’t get affordable housing, can’t get food, where they’re not getting enough social services, not enough nursing help.

“Falling Through the Cracks”

Jennyfer Hatch appeared in the pro-euthanasia propaganda film “All Is Beauty.”

What the makers of the film didn’t reveal was that she had said:

I feel like I’m falling through the cracks so if I’m not able to access health care, am I then able to access death care? And that’s what led me to look into MAID and I applied last year . . .

From a disability and financial perspective as well, I can’t afford the resources that would help improve my quality of life. Because of being locked in financially as well and geographically, it is far easier to let go than keep fighting.

Fraser Health’s MAID documentation includes the statement, “There were no other treatment recommendations or interventions that were suitable to the patient’s needs or to her financial constraints.”

Les Landry’s disability benefits ended when he turned 65. His senior benefits weren’t enough to cover his medical transportation, prescription coverage, or service dog’s care. So, he applied for MAID.

Euthanasia Averted by Generous Donors

Amir Farsoud of Ontario was living in “never-ending agony” from a back injury. But it wasn’t pain that drove him to seek euthanasia, but the prospect of homelessness after the owner sold the house he was renting. He said, “I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be homeless more than I don’t want to die.”

His story has a happy ending. Strangers raised $60,000 for him, allowing him to find a place to live, and he withdrew his application.

31-year-old “Denise”, who also had multiple chemical sensitivities, applied for assisted suicide “essentially, because of abject poverty” as she said. But her GoFundMe account brought in enough money for her to get help for her condition.

A Goal of Saving Money?

These are just a handful of examples showing that disabled people are being forced into euthanasia by poverty and lack of services.

But there is some evidence that the law works exactly as it was meant to.

Before MAID was legalized, the Canadian Medical Association released a report documenting how much money the law would save. Dead people, after all, don’t cost the government any more money in healthcare spending or support.

New research suggests medically assisted dying could result in substantial savings across Canada’s health-care system.

Doctor-assisted death could reduce annual health-care spending across the country by between $34.7 million and $136.8 million, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday.

Aaron Trachtenberg, one of the report’s authors, told CBC news:

In a resource-limited health care system, anytime we roll out a large intervention there has to be a certain amount of planning and preparation and cost has to be a part of that discussion… It’s just the reality of working in a system of finite resources.

Arguments about the money that MAID would save were rarely made publicly. Instead, euthanasia supporters relied on claims of “death with dignity” and “relieving human suffering.” But reports like this one were available to legislators, and issues of cost were spoken about behind closed doors.

How do supporters of MAID respond to these cases?

Mostly by denying they exist. In response to allegations that disabled people were choosing death because of poverty and lack of housing, Helen Long, CEO of pro-euthanasia group Dying with Dignity said, “This is simply not true and there is no evidence that I’m aware of to support those claims.”


For more of our posts on euthanasia, see: 

Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?

How Euthanasia and Poverty Threaten the Disabled 

MAID in Despair

What’s Cruel for the Incarcerated is Cruel for the Terminally Ill

Grieving for John

Will I be Treated the Same Way Now?

#SayHisName: The Medical Murder of Michael Hickson


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