By Jonathon Van Maren
Last week in this space, I covered the story of the vile video produced by Canadian retailer Simons glamorizing the suicide of Jennyfer Hatch called “A Most Beautiful Exit” (the video has since vanished from its website). As it turns out, that story was even darker than we knew – Hatch sought assisted suicide because she could not get the help she needed.
“Now that she has died, CTV News can reveal that she is the same woman who spoke to us in June about her struggles to find treatment for a rare and complex connective tissue disease, prompting her to seek Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) as a last-ditch effort for palliative care,” writes Penny Daflos. “The Simons film makes no reference to her decade-long illness, nor her struggles accessing support from Fraser Health. One of her closest friends explained that despite her speaking up, palliative care and other help were not offered, and Hatch made peace with her decision to choose the time and setting of her death.”
In short, Hatch chose assisted suicide when it became clear that no other choices were available to her. “I would call it a dystopian display of romanticizing death as a relief of suffering without any context around it, without any clarification about what’s happening,” Trudo Lemmens, a University of Toronto bioethicist, told CTV. “It makes it even more disturbing that we see a one-sided story of a very complex issue that is being exploited to show somewhat the progressive nature of a company.”
In the context of a wave of suicides driven by a lack (or perceived lack) of alternatives, the Simons video is even more sinister. Consider this Maclean’s headline from last month: “I run a food bank. We’ve seen a 60 percent increase in demand.” The following paragraphs stand out:
Meanwhile, the government has weakened our social safety net to a disheartening degree. At the provincial level, Ontario Works (our welfare system) and the Ontario Disability Support Program are woefully underfunded. We’re at the point where clients on these programs are telling us they’re considering medically assisted death or suicide because they can’t live in grinding poverty anymore. A client in our Food Bank 2 Home delivery program told one of our staff that they’re considering suicide because they’re so tired of suffering through poverty. Another client asked if we knew how to apply for MAiD for the same reasons. We can’t underestimate the effect that poverty has on someone’s mental health. Our clients live with constant worry, and cut corners on needed items like medication, fresh food, or warm clothes – constantly living under that stress takes its toll mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I don’t know how to ring the alarm bell any louder. When people start telling us they’re going to end their life because they can’t live in poverty anymore, it’s clear that we’ve failed them.