Since becoming legal in Canada in 2016, medical assistance in death (MAID) has been reserved for the terminally ill as a merciful way to die; the core purpose of the original legislation was to give those who are suffering intolerably from a physical condition the choice to die on their own terms.
One man from Orillia, however, has begun the MAID process for an entirely separate set of reasons. Due to what he sees as the state of the world, along with his circumstances and growing frustration with his lived experience, Tyler Dunlop says he simply sees no benefit in carrying on.
The 37-year-old has experienced homelessness on and off for the past 12 years, and he recently began the MAID process with a trip to Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.
As an otherwise healthy, able-bodied, working man, Dunlop said the request came as a shock to local health-care providers.
“I calmly explained it, in my right mind: I wasn't intoxicated or smoking dope or anything,” Dunlop told OrilliaMatters. “I just said I really think this would be the best decision for me. I've researched it. This is an informed decision. I'm not wasting your time.”
His resolve to seek out MAID is so strong he refused the hospital’s offer to admit him for a psychiatric assessment.
“I refused services to get my point across. I refused shelter, shower, food,” Dunlop said. “They were going to give it to me, but if I did that, they would know that I'm just a homeless guy.”
Dunlop’s current battle with homelessness began in June 2022, when he found his roommate – and work supervisor – dead inside their apartment.
The landlord gave him five days to move out, Dunlop said, and he’s been on the streets, struggling to get back on his feet ever since.
“The worst feeling is social isolation. People don't talk to you. They avoid you. They think you want something,” Dunlop told OrilliaMatters.
“The situation is getting so unbearable,” he said. “When I read about medically assisted dying I thought, well, logistically, I really don't have a future.”
Leading up to his decision, Dunlop has had what he describes as a challenging and traumatic life.
He first experienced homelessness in 2010.
“My dad died, and I had no safety net. (It's) 2010: I'm in Kingston. I'm working at a used TV shop, and I went homeless,” he said. “It just happened.”
Dunlop was born to a dysfunctional family, he said, experienced physical and sexual abuse in the foster care system as a child, has previously attempted suicide, and both of his parents have now passed away.
He lives with schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his trauma, and he has long used alcohol as a means to cope.
However, he has lived and worked his way across Canada, from Vancouver to Halifax, and says he has always accepted responsibility for his situation and sought to contribute to the world around him.
“I've worked in all kinds of industries and fields, photography, thrift stores, factories. I've always worked,” he said. “I'm a loser, absolutely, but I do work. I do contribute to society on my days off: I get a garbage bag and gloves and I clean up garbage around Orillia.”
He recently began a job at a fast food restaurant in the city, but he said he’s been unable to keep his job due to a lack of stable housing.
“How am I supposed to handle food responsibly when I haven't bathed in six days or slept?” he said. “Public safety is at risk there. I've got to make the call and be like, ‘OK, I'm sorry. I just can't do it,’ but I want to work.”
Despite his efforts to succeed in life, he views MAID as the best path forward.
“There's just no direction, no aid. There's no incentive to keep living and contribute to society at all,” he said. “I looked at my future and I said, ‘What am I going to be in the next 10 years?’ Same thing: wandering around homeless.”
MAID was originally set to be available for mental illness purposes beginning March 17, 2023. However, in December, the federal government announced plans to temporarily delay this date.
Dunlop hopes to successfully pursue this path as an issue of “equality."
“Sometimes people are so damaged that this really is the only option. I'm trying to raise the issue of equality here,” he said. “I chose assisted dying because I know I'm not going anywhere. I've been in rehabilitation. I've accessed every resource possible to get better. Some of us can't.”
The feelings behind his choice are amplified when he sees the deteriorating state of many people’s lives as a result of the ongoing housing crisis and widespread inflation.
Although he insists he is entirely responsible for his own situation, Dunlop cannot help but feel anger for the lack of help many people are facing and it strengthens his resolve that MAID is the right thing for him to do.
“When I first ended up on the street it's because I was irresponsible,” he said. “Nowadays … I’m seeing students, professionals. (With) the housing crisis, the people that are homeless really shouldn't be.”
The types of people he is seeing on the streets today have led him to believe "something is deeply wrong" in our country.
“A student trying to pay the rent, he shouldn't have to be in a shelter, man. There's honourable people on the streets,” he said. “I was seeing senior citizens in Halifax when I was there … old people on the street. Why? Couldn't afford the rent. They've never done drugs. They don't have mental illness. They're not a drunk.
“That's not OK. Something's wrong with our government.”
As an avid reader, Dunlop is a subscriber to the stoic philosophers of ancient Greece, but he wonders why the disadvantaged are not offered more opportunity to advance in society.
He looks to countries, like those in Scandinavia, that have implemented “housing-first” policies for people experiencing homelessness.
“You want me to get better and contribute to society. Why don't you make part of disability access to higher education, jobs and skills training for free? Why don't you give us every option to get off the ... system?” he said. “They don't do that. I want to go to university. I'm a high school dropout, but I love to learn.”
“We don't matter because we're not economically viable,” he said.
Despite his wishes, Dunlop said he sometimes daydreams about having a wife and a child.
If he had safe, stable housing, if he saw any hope of escaping his situation and helping others, he said he would give life another chance, but he does not have that hope for himself.
“If I can help people, well, that's good enough reason to stay, but I feel useless. That's why I want to do this: I'm hurting people. I'm hurting myself. I'm hurting society,” he said.
“This isn't self-pity and self-loathing – I'm seriously using up too much emergency services. Failure is consistent and I'm trying to get out of this hamster wheel, and I can't do it.”
In order to proceed with MAID, Dunlop said he has to get two signatures from two different psychiatrists. He said he has his first appointment on Jan. 31.
Up to 235,000 people experience homelessness in Canada in any given year.
Anyone considering suicide, or having a mental health crisis, can connect with Talk Suicide Canada here.