Genuine concerns for Canadians with disabilities

Until now, I have never felt pity for someone with a disability. But that’s what is conjuring up inside of me when I hear MP Steven Fletcher. In fact, I feel sorry for him because he appears to be so unhappy with his lot in life — a quadriplegic, using a wheelchair following a motor vehicle crash in Manitoba.

I am more disappointed Mr. Fletcher has taken his overall view of life and spun it into a national debate over assisted suicide. Being so unhappy is one thing.

But for Mr. Fletcher to roll his personal feelings on to the floor of the House in Commons is fundamentally wrong and could be a murky and confusing cloud lurking over Canadians with disabilities in the future.

Mr. Fletcher introduced not one, but two private members’ bills, supporting physician-assisted suicide for all competent adults over the age of 18.

I cannot speak to what it’s like to be in such a state of despair of I have wanted to end my life. I will never pass judgement on those circumstances.

But I have real concerns about Canadians who may be perceived as not having a very good quality of life.

I have a disability — cerebral palsy caused by lack of oxygen at birth — and use a wheelchair. And I think my life is wonderful. I have a family, a job that gives me meaning and so much more.

I am a little dumfounded by Mr. Fletcher’s thinking.

It sends a most disconcering message from the government of Canada. If Mr. Fletcher’s bill passes, Canada will be seen as a country that does not value the potential of citizens with disabilities. Better off dead?

Absolutely not.

If Mr. Fletcher was truly engaged with people with disabilities, he would be lobbying for employment equality, income supports, accessibily, transportation, housing and so many other issues that need political massaging, and understanding.

Instead, he is waving a white towel saying “Take me, and everyone else like me because life with a disability in Canada ain’t worth living.”

What does this mean for future debate on issues for Canadians with disabilities?

Will MP’s view those debates as tedious, even mindless, because one of their fellow parlamenterians says life with a disability, frankly, sucks? He should know, they will conclude, because he has a disability.

To which I say: so?

One man’s view. That’s it. It should not be taken as gospel.

I am personally concerned aboout the message Mr. Fletcher is sending and most wonder, with respect, if making assited suicide a convenient way out — rather than encouraging all Canadians, despite limitations, to be the best they can.

Sometimes, we do the easy thing because it’s simply … easy. But the federal government has a responsibility to empower Canadians in all circumstances.

And, I fear, if Mr. Fletcher’s bills are passed, it will be abused — and the way of life in Canada will never be the same.

(Cam Tait is the special projects advisor for Challenge Insurance.)


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