Patients seeking assisted suicide in Canada are mostly privileged white people, according to Trudeau Foundation fellow and medical ethicist Dr. Jocelyn Downie. 

Downie, an advocate of expanding assisted suicide, or MAID, to those who suffer from mental illness, testified before the House of Commons medical assistance in dying committee Nov. 21 and asked the government to move forward with its legislation. 

When asked by committee vice-chair NDP MP Alistair MacGregor whether Canada was ready to open up assisted suicide services further when many people struggle to get access to mental health care, Downie said that a barrier to services is not a main driver of people accessing assisted suicide. 

“When you’re answering your constituents, you need to be able to tell them those are not the drivers of MAID,” said Downie. 

“People getting MAID are actually very privileged. They’re white. They’re well off. They’re highly educated. They’re not in institutions. They have families. The picture is one of privilege. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to look after the people who are vulnerable.” 

Downie, a professor emeritus at the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law, is also a member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s Covid-19 Impact Committee. 

After former justice minister David Lametti announced a pause on legislation expanding access to assisted suicide for the mentally ill last year, Downie was among several experts to argue that a delay was unnecessary

In an article published by Impact Ethics, Downie took issue with a dissenting report presented by the Conservatives to the committee arguing against the expansion and particularly the report’s attacks on the governing Liberals. 

“With the release of the dissenting report, that has changed. What is noteworthy about the dissenting report is not the introduction of any new evidence or arguments or even its conclusions … Rather, what is noteworthy – indeed startling – is the extent to which it is a partisan diatribe filled with hyperbolic rhetoric,” argued Downie. 

“The partisan nature of the dissenting report (signalled in the table of contents and title) is intensified through its hyperbolic targeting of the Liberals. It uses the word “Liberal” 28 times in a ten-page report.”