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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

O' Canada: Citizenship and Disability

Some readers may recall I wrote about the Chapman family in the summer of 2008. Briefly, the Chapman family was denied entry into Canada because they have a child with a disability. I was outraged by this story and it appears the same thing is happening again. This time a French family who were encouraged to move to Montreal by an embassy official in Paris hasve been told they cannot remain in Canada. The reason given is the same one the Chapman's heard: their daughter, who has cerebral palsy, would place an "excessive burden on social services". It is estimated that the child might cost health and social services up to $5,000 a year more than a so called normal child. Essentially what Canadian officials have decided is that any person, adult or child, with a disabling condition is not eligible for citizenship because they are deemed too costly. If you want to take an even harder view, one could argue children with a disability whose parent wants to move to Canada are not fully human and instead are a kind of unwanted property.

David Barlagne and his family are now in a difficult situation. They took a chance and moved to Montreal in 2005. Barlagne told Canadian officials his daughter had cerebral palsy upfront. He was assured that if his business was successful he would not encounter any problems becoming citizen. Five years later Barlagne is in trouble despite the fact his business is thriving. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has rejected Barlagne's request for permanent residency because his daughter is "medically inadmissible". In a letter to Barlagne Citizenship and Immigration Canada wrote that his daughter suffered from a "global delay" and she "risks giving rise to an excessive burden on social health services". Barlagne is mad and I cannot blame him. He told news reporters that "it's very unfair. What I find particularly unjust is that a representative of the government of Canada told me 'Come to Canada, no problem' yet after arriving in Quebec and contributing to society here, we can't stay anymore." Sadly, there is not much Barlagne can do. He is seeking a judicial review in Federal Court of Immigration Canada's decision. If he wins another Immigration Canada adjudicator would review the case. If he loses he and his family must leave Canada immediately.

There is no doubt in my mind Barlagne was mislead, perhaps mistakenly, and is in deep trouble. Based on how the Chapman's were treated in 2008 I think he and his family have no chance to stay in Canada. The Canadian press has been neutral in the reports I have seen. Some have been supportive of immigration officials. For instance, Jacqueline Ruby, an Immigration Canada spokesperson noted that such cases "are difficult for our department and are heartbreaking to our staff". Oh, spare the false pity. What is heartbreaking is a family that tore up its roots and moved to a different country. In addition through hard work and determination during a time of financial chaos a family man started a successful business only to be told sorry your crippled daughter is a costly burden on Canadian society. Of course Immigration Canada views the situation differently: "In general Canada is hoping that more skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs, and other individuals will immigrate to Canada. Nonetheless, it is also the goal of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to maintain an appropriate balance between welcoming new members into Canadian society while protecting our publicly funded health and social services".

What a great country Canada is! It is protecting itself rather than discriminating against a class of people. That class of people are all those with a disability. Now I know where I rate. I am an "expensive burden on social services". I bet Canadian officials will be more than willing to take my tourism dollars if I care to visit but I am not worthy of citizenship. Immigration officials have made this abundantly clear with the Chapman's and now have reinforced that position with the Barlagne's. I also suspect that the Chapman's and the Barlagne's are far from unique. How many families I wonder do not fight back and make their stories public? Immigration Canada's position is truly outrageous and highly bigoted. A class of people have been deemed unfit for citizenship and I am a member of this group. So the next time someone tells me the disability rights battle has been won I will point out that in Canada I am welcome to visit but in reality an excessive burden on social services and as such not eligible for citizenship. Yikes, and I thought we had problems in the USA!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Assisted Suicide: Legal In Montana

For months I have been expecting the Montana Supreme Court to make assisted suicide legal. On Thursday December 31, this became reality. Montana is now the third state to allow doctor assisted suicide. What exactly does this ruling mean for residents of Montana? Well, doctors can prescribe the required drugs to mentally competent, terminally ill people without worrying about being prosecuted. This may sound reasonable as no one wants a person who is terminally ill to suffer when death is inevitable. But life and deciding who is terminally ill is not always simple or clearly defined. For instance, ALS is a terminal condition and any person diagnosed with this condition will be devastated. This is a reasonable reaction. But this same person can live many years and in some cases be alive decades later (this is not the norm but possible). Here is my concern: what happens if this person lives in Montana? What options will be discussed when ALS is the diagnosis? Will the focus be on loss alone, the slow deterioration of one's physical ability? Will a seemingly good hearted and caring physician state that assisted suicide is a viable option? This will be perfectly legal and a deadly choice some people may choose. The implications do not end with this one example nor are they limited to ALS. Let me turn to something I know a lot about--paralysis. What will happen to an athletically fit young man in his early 20s who experiences a high level spinal cord injury. If he lives in Montana will assisted suicide be a treatment option? I can readily imagine it would be easy to sway such a man to end his life shortly after such an injury. No one wants to be paralyzed, myself included. What if the post spinal cord injury portrait painted by the attending physician is hopelessly bleak? This is not far fetched. Indeed, such an approach was the norm when I was paralyzed. It was assumed high level quadriplegics could have no "quality of life". This assumption was wrong and based not on science or medical facts but a cultural belief that death was preferable to a severe disability like quadriplegia.

There is not much positive that can be found in the Montana Supreme Court decision. The one silver lining is that the court did not determine whether the Montana Constitution guarantees the right to an assisted suicide. Thus the court did not go as far as District Judge Dorothy McCarter had in 2008. Instead, the court ruled that "We find nothing in Montana Supreme Court precedent or Montana statues indicating that physician aid in dying is against public policy". Why does this not make me feel any better or less worried? Let's not mince words here: the Montana Supreme Court ruling represents yet another legal victory for powerful and well funded right to die groups like Compassion and Choices. This group in particular is adept at swaying the media and those unfamiliar with assisted suicide. Hence, comments such as those found in the New York Times that appear reasonable are in fact misleading. For example, the legal director of Compassion and Choices is quoted: "Montanans trapped in an unbearable dying process deserve, and will now have, this end-of-life choice". Again, on the surface this sounds reasonable but ignores the fact hospice care is available in every state. Nor does such a statement consider the gray areas I have already mentioned where bias against people with a disability rears it ugly head in a myriad of different ways.

Readers of this blog will know an ever present refrain of mine is nuanced debate--we need a nuanced debate about disability. Sadly, nuance is utterly absent in most cases where disability is discussed and this deeply troubles me. Yet when it comes to the discussion of assisted suicide the situation is far worse. Both sides of the debate, those for and those against assisted suicide, do nothing but scream at one another. Nuance is utterly absent, views are deeply entrenched and unwavering. In addition, strange political bedfellows exist such as conservative pro lifers siding with liberal disability rights activists. In part this is why I limit my comments about assisted suicide. I sincerely doubt I can sway people one way or another and restrict my observations to how assisted suicide can impact the lives of those with or who may incur a disability. This approach does not make me a popular guy. I can live with this but I remain deeply frustrated. But I would like to believe my frustration comes out in a constructive manner. In contrast the frustrated words of others such as Mark Mostert of the Institute for the Study of Disability and Bioethics (ISDB) leave much to be desired. He wrote: "My greatest frustration? That people with disabilities are so (forgive me) brain-dead in not seeing how they will soon be in the sights of the pro-death lobby. In my more perverse moments, I can't wait to say I told you so. More rationally, if more people with disabilities don't stand up along with those of us who are trying to get the word out, then our future is very dark indeed". I do not share Mostert's deep pessimism and regret his choice of words. They are alarmist and counter productive. Obviously I am quite adept at voicing my opinion as are millions of other so called "brain-dead" people with a disability. Thus I may accept his support but wish he could frame it in a nuanced manner.