For as long as he can remember, Andrew Adams has lived with intolerable, unpredictable pain. But because of his age and the overly restrictive and unconstitutional assisted dying law, he is barred from accessing his Charter right to an assisted death. Like his close friends, Julia Lamb and Adam Maier-Clayton, Andrew is taking the time to speak out for much-needed changes to a law that currently excludes far too many suffering Canadians.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve lived with two things: unbearable pain and the fear of that pain striking at unpredictable times.
Since I was a young child, I’ve experienced what I call “attacks.” When these occur, my entire body starts to sweat and my insides seize up. I often compare the experience to having severe food poisoning. I will be doubled over in pain for sometimes hours, and this can go on for days at a time or even weeks. I tend to go through a few months of reprieve every now and then when my symptoms seem to disappear and I’m normal and feeling healthy for a little while. Outside of the “attacks,” I generally carry a feeling similar to a hangover (although I don’t drink alcohol). Basically my nerves are shaky and my body feels toxic and sickly.
- Act by Sept. 29: Voice Your Choice for assisted dying rules that respect Canadians' rights
- Challenges to Choice: Bill C-14, one year later
I remember being about 12 years old and having a particularly vicious “attack.” I can vividly remember thinking, “Wow, I wonder if there’s a way out of this?” That’s how bad the pain was. I remember fearing I’d have to live for years with this ailment. Unfortunately, I am now 28 years old and still suffering the way I had predicted. That thought I had at 12 years old when I was writhing in agony foreshadowed my desire to have the option of medical assistance in dying (MAID) available to me based on my intolerable and irremediable suffering. I didn’t want to be trapped then and I do not want to remain trapped now. I have tried many medications and seen many specialists and done many tests. There doesn’t seem to be any particular thing that triggers my symptoms; they just decide to pop up whenever they please. This unpredictability and constant ongoing threat is physically and emotionally exhausting.
"Ongoing human rights battle"
I met Julia Lamb almost 10 years ago when we both worked together at a call center in Chilliwack, British Columbia. We developed a close relationship over the years based on shared values of social justice and disability rights. I had followed the Carter court case from its inception and familiarized myself with the details of our Charter rights and the implications of the eventual ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015. I knew I wanted the option of MAID because I had been suffering for so long, and I wanted the comfort of knowing there was a way to have some control over my own destiny.
One year later, my friend Julia would join the BCCLA to challenge the unconstitutional federal assisted dying law, Bill C-14. As it stands, the law prohibits people like Julia and me, who suffer with non-terminal medical conditions, from accessing MAID. Suddenly, the issue I had been following for a number of years was right up close and personal. It was surreal! I am so proud of her for standing up for the Charter rights of all Canadians who feel scared and left behind by the limiting eligibility criteria of Bill C-14, especially the requirement that natural death be “reasonably foreseeable.”
I have watched Julia live her life to the fullest and expand her horizons at every opportunity. To me, this court case is just another example of her adventurous spirit fighting for change. She, too, is in her twenties and does not want to be trapped in intolerable suffering without any hope of a gentle and peaceful exit strategy — if and when things become too unbearable. It has been an overwhelming comfort to know her as an ally going through the highs and lows of this ongoing human rights battle.
Along the way, we met another young person whose life was being drastically impacted by the restrictions of Bill C-14. Adam Maier-Clayton was someone I reached out to after reading his article in The Globe and Mail regarding refractory mental illness. I messaged him on Facebook and we spoke on the phone. For the next seven months or so, we spoke regularly about what suffering was doing to our young lives. Oftentimes, when you are a young person seeking the potential option of MAID, people will find it hard to understand and impossible to relate to. Many people seem to think that if you are young, you couldn’t possibly desire or need something like assisted dying. Not so with Adam. He “got it.” I didn’t need to explain myself too much to him because he was in the same boat as Julia and me. I think the camaraderie we offered each other was a comfort to all three of us.
- Related: Canada's assisted-dying laws must be open to those with mental illness
- Related: The mentally ill must be part of the assisted-dying debate
When Adam passed away in a motel in April, I was shocked, even though I expected him to eventually take his own life. Anyone who followed Adam on Facebook or in the media knew what his intentions were. But that didn’t make it any easier to process. On the one hand, I admired Adam’s determination and dedication to personal autonomy. On the other hand, it was a grave injustice and a failure of our society what happened to him. Adam didn’t deserve to die alone in the middle of the night. He deserved to have his family around him and a medical professional guiding a compassionate process. Instead, he ended up being another victim of the stigma associated with mental illness. Society’s reluctance to deal with uncomfortable realities won the day.
As Julia goes forward with this legal battle on behalf of all suffering Canadians who have been unfairly and cruelly excluded by our current assisted dying law, I just wanted to shed a small bit of light onto the fact that this issue doesn’t only belong to the older generation and the terminally ill. This is a Charter right, which includes people from all walks of life and with many different diagnoses. I think in a country as educated and compassionate as Canada we can and will expand our laws to accommodate those that have been left behind and for whom the future remains uncertain. As Adam would say, “Keep grinding, my friends.” We’ll get there.
Andrew Adams is a social service worker from British Columbia and a proud supporter of Dying With Dignity Canada. We are immensely grateful to Andrew for sharing his story.
If you feel strongly that Canada's assisted dying law must include individuals whose primary condition is a mental illness, you can Voice Your Choice now as part of our official submission to the group of researchers studying the future of assisted dying in Canada. Learn more here.