Roger Foley

Roger Foley is a Canadian man, 45, who suffers from several complex medical conditions including cerebellar ataxia, which is an incurable degenerative neurological disorder that renders him physically disabled, reduces his life expectancy, and leaves him permanently reliant on caregivers for food and medicine [1]. Prior to the onset of serious illness, Foley worked as a National Manager of E-Business at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, Canada [2]. Since November 2015, Foley has been hospitalised in the Victoria Hospital London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ontario, following physical and psychological suffering under state-supported agency care [3]. Foley has been refused funding for self-directed home care, which would allow him to be centrally involved in the management of his personal and medical care at home, by the state-contracted nonprofit group responsible for his home care, which argued that his particular condition rendered him ineligible for this funding [4].

Apparently, hospital staff offered Foley a choice between $1,800 a day for continued hospital care, forced discharge home to the same inadequate care as before, or medical assistance in dying (MAiD) [5]. Foley has filed a series of lawsuits against the hospital, caregiver organisations, provincial and federal Canadian governments alleging that he has been illegally denied access to care [6]. These lawsuits remain active, though Foley’s lawyer, Ken Berger, has noted that they may be amended depending on the changing state of Canadian MAiD legislation [7]. Among other claims, Foley seeks a declaration from the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice recognising the “denial of the relief of […] [Foley’s] suffering by arbitrarily denying him a medically necessary service via a simple, alternative, and available means of delivering […] [Foley] a service he was already receiving, which would have protected his dignity, autonomy and bodily and psychological integrity” [8]

Foley’s lawsuit is sharply critical of the provisions for Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, particularly their lack of protection of vulnerable people. Foley notes that they “fail to require […] any steps to even try to help relieve intolerable suffering or even require that other options even be tried before assisting vulnerable persons with disability to assisted death” [9]. They “facilitate the humiliation, abuse, and degradation of […] [Foley] and all other vulnerable people with disabilities by improperly exploiting vulnerability and weakness in times of desperation” and “contain insufficient safeguards that are inadequately designed to protect vulnerable people from abuse, coercion, and errors, facilitating assisted suicide instead of medical assistance in life” [10].

Roger Foley addressed MPs on the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights from his hospital bed via Zoom in November 2020, and urged them not to further expand medical assistance in dying legislation. Foley stated that “assisted dying is easier to access than safe and appropriate disability supports to live” [11]. He considered the offer of MAiD to have been a “threat” to his life, and that he was “coerced” into choosing MAiD because the hospital refused to reasonably support his acute care needs. He urged MPs not to “turn their backs” on elderly and ill Canadians [12].

In Canada, the Federal Government passed legislation on Medical Assistance in Dying in 2016. Doctors are permitted to prescribe lethal drugs for self-administration and to administer lethal drugs to mentally competent adults with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” where “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable” [13].

In March 2021, the Canadian Government amended the MAiD law to remove the requirement in the statute that death be “reasonably foreseeable”, after it was successfully challenged (to allow for assisted suicide in cases of non-terminal illness) in the Quebec Superior Court in 2019 [14]. The campaign to remove this requirement, and thus to permit assisted suicide in the cases of non-terminal disability, was described as a “moral affront” by Krista Carr, the executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, which campaigns on behalf of Canadians with intellectual disabilities [15]. Krista Carr further warned that “the lives of people with disabilities are as necessary to the integrity of the human family as any other dimension of humanity, and this threat to the lives of people with disabilities is a threat to us all” [16].

Ultimately, Foley has contended that this situation is “not fundamentally just in a democratic and civil society based on the rule of law and an inclusive society with respect for vulnerable persons with disabilities”.