The Canadian Association for Community Living expressed concern about the medically assisted death of a man with a disability and a mental illness at Chilliwack General Hospital in July. (Progress file)

Disability rights organization ‘distressed’ about medically assisted death at Chilliwack hospital

Family of Alan Nichols said he had a disability and suffered from a mental illness

A national organization that advocates for adults with intellectual disabilities is calling the recent medically assisted death of a man at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) distressing and an “injustice.”

Alan Nichols was admitted to CGH in June of this year suffering from dehydration and malnourishment.

The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and Nichols’ family says he had a disability and a mental illness. CACL said Nichols was in a moment of crisis, yet just four days before the procedure, the family were notified that he would die by lethal injection.

“Unbeknownst to family members… Nichols was approved for doctor-assisted death,” according to the CACL in a statement. “His family, who did not believe he met the eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying, were unable to intervene in his case. On July 26 at 10 a.m., Alan Nichols’ life was ended through lethal injection.”

A CACL spokesperson said the association was “distressed” to have learned of the death, and claim that the case points to how doctors are able to interpret Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAiD) law “more broadly than ever intended.”

“So much more could have been done to improve Alan’s quality of life,” CACL executive vice-president Krista Carr said. “Alan was living in poverty, lacked access to the disability supports needed to live without stress, and does not appear to have been connected to appropriate community-based mental health services. This is exactly why we need the end-of-life criterion to remain in the law — deaths like Alan’s cannot be normalized.”

• RELATED: Woman with brain cancer urges Fraser Health board to ban medically assisted dying in hospice

• RELATED: B.C. man chooses death with dignified party – music, whiskey and cigars included

In September, a Quebec judge struck down a portion of the federal assisted-dying law, ruling favour of the plaintiffs in the case of Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu, two Quebeckers with incurable degenerative illnesses.

The CACL is urging the Attorney General to appeal the decision, which they say “appears to be quickly moving towards enabling access to based solely on a person’s, and others’ perception of intolerable suffering.”

“This is my main concern with the Truchon and Gladu decision,” CACL president Joy Bacon said, “that stigma and medical assistance in dying are entangled and inseparable. Without the firm line that is the end of life criterion, there is more space for stereotyping and discrimination to seep into the medical assistance in dying system. By steering people who are oppressed and suffering toward assisted death, Canada will be feeding back into stigmatizing narratives, telling Canadians that some lives are more worthwhile than others.”

Another Chilliwack resident was in the news recently applauding a civil decision regarding MAiD. Julia Lamb, who has spinal muscular atrophy, was being assisted by the BC Civil Liberties Association in a legal battle against he federal government to access medically assisted dying if she so chooses.

In September, the case was adjourned after an expert witness for Canada said that Lamb would indeed now qualify for an assisted death.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Fraser Health was asked about the case of Alan Nichols.

“We will not comment on the specifics of this case, for patient privacy reasons,” spokesperson Tasleem Juma said via email.

“I can however tell you that there is thorough process in place for Medical Assistance in Dying to which we adhere. More information about this process is available on our website.”


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paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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