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Disabled Canadian veteran says she was offered suicide in lieu of chair lift

woman riding chair lift

Daisy Daisy | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 12/07/22

Military veteran and Paralympic athlete Christine Gauthier was looking for help moving around her own home when it was suggested she die.

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A Canadian military veteran who sought help from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) in making her house more wheelchair accessible is taking VAC to court, saying a representative suggested that instead she seek Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). 

Christine Gauthier, who retired from armed service after a training accident left her paraplegic, continued to serve her nation as a Paralympic athlete in the 2016 games at Rio de Janeiro. For years she has been trying to tap her benefits in order to get a chair lift installed in her house. According to the below interview, from Global News, Gauthier has been climbing down the stairs with her wheelchair in front of her in order to leave her house. 

CBC reports that it was during her quest to see a chair lift installed that it was suggested to Gauthier that she pursue euthanasia. Understandably perturbed by the insinuation that her life is not worth continuing, she sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and filed a lawsuit against VAC. Now her case is being heard by the House of Commons, where Gauthier testified: 

“With respect to me, I have a letter in my file, because I had to face that as well,” said Gauthier, referring to the debate about veterans being offered the option of medical assistance in dying (MAID).

“I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAID, medical assistance in dying,” said Gauthier.

For PM Trudeau’s part, he called the suggestion “absolutely unacceptable,” and has vowed an investigation into the practices of VAC. He said: 

“We are following up with investigations and we are changing protocols to ensure what should seem obvious to all of us: that it is not the place of Veterans Affairs Canada, who are supposed to be there to support those people who stepped up to serve their country, to offer them medical assistance in dying.”

Developments

The court proceedings began last week, but on December 5, CBC reported on developments in the case. Now, it was found that rather than a letter in Gauthier’s files, the comments were recorded in notes she took during the phone calls. Because these are not official documents, the court argues that there is no definitive proof that Gauthier was told to seek MAiD. 

Deputy minister of Veteran Affairs Paul Ledwell told the House of Commons that his department had examined more than 400,000 internal files as part of an internal investigation on the matter and have found no instances of veterans being pressured to pursue MAiD. Gauthier’s case was examined closely for the hearing, and Ludwell said: 

“There’s no indication in the files in any correspondence, in any notation, based on engagement with a veteran of reference to MAID,” Ledwell told the veterans affairs committee.

Gauthier said in an interview that she did not believe that there was nothing in their files indicating that the suggestions were made. She went on to say that she believes there are more than four instances of this happening. 

In August Global News reported on a similar instance in which a VAC worker inappropriately discussed MAiD services with an unnamed veteran. In this instance, however, VAC issued an apology in a statement: 

“VAC deeply regrets what transpired,” the statement reads, adding the agency is investigating the incident and that “appropriate administrative action will be taken.”

Tags:
CanadaDisabilitiesEuthanasiaVeterans
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