A Canadian pensioner seeking euthanasia because he fears homelessness has received approval from a doctor despite admitting poverty is a major factor in the decision to end his own life.
Les Landry, 65, told assessors for the procedure he ‘doesn’t want to die’ but has applied for medical assistance in dying (MAID) because he can’t afford to live comfortably.
Astonishingly, a doctor has given one of the two signatures required for Landry to end his own life, despite knowing that financial hardship – not illness – is a leading reason for the profound decision.
Landry is awaiting the decision of a second doctor who has assessed his eligibility. If that doctor rejects the application, Landry says he will simply ‘shop’ around for another who’s prepared to sign off on his death – something that’s allowed under Canada’s assisted dying laws.
The shocking case lays bare the increasingly relaxed approach to euthanasia in Canada, where experts say ‘choosing to die is more accessible than support for people with disabilities’.
Les Landry, 65, has received the approval of a doctor for euthanasia, despite admitting that poverty is a main factor in his decision. If he gets permission from a second doctor, he will be allowed to take his own life through medical assistance in death (MAID)
Dr Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said Canada has reached a point where people are choosing to die ‘not because they want they want to, but because they don’t have adequate access’ to proper health and social services.
More than 10,000 Canadians were euthanized last year, a tenfold increase on 2016 when the practise was legalized. In March, the law will change to allow mental health patients with no physical ailments to seek MAID.
Canada’s law allows a person with a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’ to seek euthanasia, even if their illness isn’t terminal.
Landry uses a wheelchair and has several other disabilities that mean he is eligible for MAID, including epilepsy and diabetes. But until recently, he was able to live comfortably, sharing his modest home in Medicine Hat, Alberta, with his service dog.
Changes to his state benefits when he turned 65 in May meant his income was cut and he’s now left with around $120 per month after paying for medical bills and essentials.
Landry is also braced for a rent hike in January that could mean his benefits no longer cover the cost of essentials, placing him on the brink of homelessness.
In a series of interviews with DailyMail.com, he detailed his spiral into hardship and decision to pursue the ‘bizarre’ MAID application process that’s made ‘state-sanctioned suicide’ a viable solution to his struggles.
‘MAID is when the pain of living is more than the fear of death,’ Landry said. ‘How do you shut out the switch to both emotional and physical pain in poverty?
Landry said the application process was ‘bizarre’. Canadians in several provinces can simply download a form online, like the one filed above by Landry, to start the euthanasia process
Landry said he’s been honest with assessors that poverty has been a main factor. One doctor has already given approval for the procedure and he’s awaiting the opinion of another
Doctors have visited Landry at home to assess his eligibility and one has approved his request for medical assistance in dying. Two approvals are required to go through with the process
Landry, who uses a wheelchair and has several medical conditions, lived comfortably until his benefits changed, but now he fears that he’ll be left homeless by a shortfall in his finances
‘If poverty takes somebody in a wheelchair and basically makes them homeless, what’s the solution?’
‘I don’t want to go homeless. I don’t want to end up living in a van so I can’t make the van payments. I don’t want to end up homeless. Who would want to be homeless at 16, never mind 65?
‘Before I turned 65, I was livable, I wasn’t suffering, I had my budget all set out, I’d know exactly how much I was going to get. And it was manageable. Now it’s like, I don’t know what I’m going to get from month to month.
‘Sooner or later it’s going to get to a point where I just won’t be able to afford to live.’
Landry used to be a commercial truck driver and earned up to $85,000 per year. He suffered a hernia 15 years ago and complications with the treatment left him with dangerously high blood pressure.
That triggered three mini strokes and he developed epilepsy – a series of events that meant he lost his driving license and was unable to work.
He qualified for Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) benefits. He was recently receiving about $1,680 a month, plus other benefits, including a service dog allowance, medical transportation allowance and special diet allowance.
But Landry said after turning 65, he was switched to a different benefits plan for senior citizens, and many of those benefits were cut. His finances are now in decline, and the threat of homelessness is real.
He has spent some time considering whether to apply for MAID – and even joked the decision was ‘not like ordering a pizza’.
Beginning the process for an assisted death in Canada is surprisingly straightforward. In several provinces, residents can simply download a form online.
‘The MAID application itself is just like, it is bizarre,’ Landry said. All he needed to do was ‘check off the boxes and sign the bottom’, then secure the signature of a witness.
‘In a matter of days I got a response saying… now we’re going to move on to the next step,’ he said. ‘They told me to expect a phone call from a doctor. And he came to my house.’
Landry wryly pointed out that home visits by doctors ceased to be the norm decades ago – but ‘they’re willing to do a house call to kill you’.
He said he was honest with MAID assessors throughout the process – admitting that it was his financial troubles that pushed him to make the application.
‘I told it to the doctor, I want to live. I don’t want to die,’ he said.
Landry suffers several disabilities but was able to live well until his benefits were cut. Now, he says the threat of homelessness is real so he is seeking permission to end his life through euthanasia
Landry told DailyMail.com: ‘I’ve been very honest with it to the whole process. I haven’t lied or hidden anything… I said, “but one of the main factors is because of the poverty”.’
‘I’ve been very honest with it to the whole process. I haven’t lied or hidden anything. I said, “I am on the fence here”, I said, but one of the main factors is because of the poverty.
‘And I explained that when I was on AISH that poverty wasn’t an issue I knew I could budget. I knew what I was allowed. I knew what was covered. I said, now everything’s up in the air, and it’s the unknown. I am not considered a person with a disability, yet I have a disability.’
He was also open about the issue with the doctor who visited his home for the first assessment on December 2.
‘He [the doctor] didn’t hold anything back with me either. He said that he knows he has admitted MAID to people based on poverty but they didn’t tell him,’ Landry said.
The consultation with the second doctor took place at Landry’s home on Wednesday afternoon.
That doctor was ‘undecided’ and Landry is still awaiting the decision.
‘I said, “I don’t want to live like this and poverty is not helping”.
‘Either I’m approved or I’m not approved, give me an answer, because without the answer, I can’t really go and shop for another doctor.’
He added: ‘I asked the first doctor, “well what if a doctor doesn’t approve me?” He said well they just find another one. I said okay, I said so you can go shopping? He says yep.’
Dr Dosani, who works in the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, said Canada must pause its expansion of MAID until issues within the system are addressed.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘I work in a world where it’s possible to arrange MAID for people in two weeks in an organized and efficient fashion, but it takes people years to get them access to housing, months to get people income support, and weeks and months to get people mental health and harm reduction support.’
He said the government in Canada has ‘literally made it easier for people with disabilities to die with dignity through MAID than live with dignity through access to housing, income support, food security and medication coverage’.
‘I think given the stories that are coming out, it would be very disappointing if we didn’t pause and take some time for reflection and discussion about the pace at which MAID is being expanded,’ he said.
‘At the very least, if we are going to make MAID more accessible for people to die well, we must create a society where people can access the social supports they need to live well, too.’
Landry also said he is ‘not against MAID’, but criticized Canada’s government for its rapid expansion of euthanasia laws without reforming access to support for people with disabilities.
‘But the thing is this, when the Government expanded MAID to include people with disabilities, they also should have expanded the benefits and improve the quality of life for the people that they’re targeting.
‘They should have done that first, not after the fact. It took them 20 month, 20 months, from the minute they they tabled the legislation for MAID to the time it became law…
‘Why would it take 20 months to assist killing us and like forever to try and improve our benefits?’