Ontario man applying for medically-assisted death as alternative to being homeless

A St. Catharines man with a disability has passed the first hurdle for medical assistance in dying, he doesn’t want to die but is afraid he is about to become homeless. CityNews delves into the ethics of choice versus an inadequate social safety net.

By Cynthia Mulligan and Meredith Bond

A 54-year-old St. Catharines man is in the process of applying for medical assistance in dying (MAiD), not because he wants to die, but because social supports are failing him and he fears he may have no other choice.

Amir Farsoud lives with never-ending agony from a back injury years ago. He tells CityNews at its worst he is “crying like a 5-year-old and not sleeping for days in a row.” Farsoud also takes medication for depression and anxiety.

He describes his quality of life as “awful, non-existent and terrible … I do nothing other than manage pain.”

But Farsoud said his quality of life is not the reason he is applying for MAiD. He applied because he is currently in danger of losing his housing and fears being homeless over dying. “It’s not my first choice.”

Farsoud lives in a rooming house he shares with two other people, and it is currently up for sale. He is on social assistance and says he can’t find anywhere else to live that he can afford.

“I don’t want to die but I don’t want to be homeless more than I don’t want to die,” shared Farsoud.

“I know, in my present health condition, I wouldn’t survive it anyway. It wouldn’t be at all dignified waiting, so if that becomes my two options, it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Farsoud.

When asked if he would consider assisted dying if he had stable housing, Farsoud said he wouldn’t “even be close to it yet.”

“It would be on my radar because my physical condition is only going to get worse,” added Farsoud. “At that point, I would be probably availing myself of the option, but that would be presumably years down the road.”

MAID officially became legal in Canada in 2016 under the requirement that death was reasonably foreseeable. The eligibility to apply expanded in March of 2022 to include people with disabilities or those suffering pain even if they are not close to death.

UN experts released a report in Jan of 2021 that said when “life-ending interventions are normalized for people who are not terminally ill or suffering at the end of their lives, such legislative provisions tend to rest on – or draw strength from – ableist assumptions about the inherent ‘quality of life’ or ‘worth’ of the life of a person with a disability.”

In a letter sent directly to the Government of Canada ahead of the change in MAiD legislation, the UN said it was concerned with the expanded access, specifically citing concern with a circumstance like the one Farsoud faces.

“It is not beyond possibility that, if offered an expanded right as per Bill C-7, persons with disabilities may decide to end their lives because of broader social factors such as loneliness, social isolation and lack of access to quality social services,” read the note.

Farsoud has already received one signoff from his doctor that says he meets the criteria, which is physical suffering due to a disability that is intolerable and cannot be relieved.

Farsoud's MAiD application form that contains one doctor's signature. He only needs one more to be approved.

Farsoud’s MAiD application form that contains one doctors signature. He only needs one more to be approved. Photo credit: Farsoud

He still needs one more doctor to sign off in order to become eligible.

Farsoud is not the first person with disabilities to consider MAID due to the lack of resources available to them. CityNews previously spoke to Richard Ewald, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stage four liver disease, and suffers from chronic pain and depression.

Ewald receives $1,169 per month to cover rent, food, and other essentials. Since CityNews spoke with him, Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates were raised five per cent by the Ontario government.

He says he will apply for MAID if his situation gets worse and knows several others who are doing the same.

“I’m not suicidal. Sometimes it’s a choice between burning to death and jumping out of a high-rise building. I’d like to have that choice. I’ve suffered. I really don’t want to suffer past a certain point,” Ewald said. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t so stuck in this situation with ODSP.”

Life on ODSP is often a life below the poverty line. Farsoud receives a little over $1,200 a month on ODSP and after $690 a month for rent and paying his bills, he has about $7.00 per day for food. “A lot of beans,” he said is what he eats most of the time.

He said because of this, he can’t afford to pay more for rent. Farsoud said the wait list for affordable housing where he lives is seven years.

Dr. Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist from the University of Toronto, said this is not what MAID was designed for.

“Cases like [Farsoud’s] are emerging with increasing frequency across the country,” Bowman said. “We were unbelievably naive as a nation to think that vulnerability, disability, poverty that we could parcel that off and it wasn’t going to be a problem. It’s a huge problem.”

“I worry about this because it is people living with disability, people living with pain, people living in poverty, that are requesting medical assistance in dying, not because of the physical experience they’re going through, but because of the social circumstances themselves and this is wrong. It’s really a very terrible thing.”

There is a 90-day waiting period after applying for MAID, so due to the requirements, Farsoud believes he could be eligible as soon as November.

When asked if he is afraid to die, Farsoud responded tearfully, “Who isn’t … Yeah, I am. Who wouldn’t be.”

Farsoud shared he believes it’s backwards that people like him are currently in this position and have to think about making this choice.

“I think it’s horrible, whether it’s ethical or not, but I think it’s backwards. I think in a country such as ours, people shouldn’t be hungry and shouldn’t be worried about whether there’s a roof over their head,” Farsoud said.

“I think we actually have the wherewithal for that not to be an issue and that we are choosing to not help the most vulnerable members of the society is tragic.”

The ethics surrounding MAID have long been debated and will continue too as mental health conditions will soon join the list of reasons one may qualify for assisted death.

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