Transcript: Rupa Subramanya
My interview with The Free Press staff writer
In recent weeks on the Lean Out podcast, we’ve been doing a deep dive into the rise of independent journalism, and looking at some of the big stories that independent journalists broke this past year.
My guest on this week’s episode, taped in December, saw several of her own pieces draw international attention in 2022 — including her reporting on the trucker convoy crisis in Ottawa, and, as we discuss on the show, her reporting around Canada’s controversial Medical Assistance in Dying program, also known as MAID.
Below is an edited transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen to the interview for free here.
TH: Rupa, welcome back to Lean Out.
RS: Thanks, Tara. Thank you for having me here once again. It’s great to be on your show.
TH: Wonderful to have you back on, and congratulations on the new staff writer role at Bari Weiss’s media platform, The Free Press.
RS: Thank you so much. It’s really exciting, and I’m really looking forward to working on some interesting stuff over the course of the next few months.
TH: This is a huge moment in the rise of independent journalism, and I do want to talk about that trend today. But first, I want to reach back to a big story that you published in October, on Canada’s assisted suicide program. This topic has recently received more coverage in the mainstream press, and internationally — including in the New York Times. And the federal government has just announced that it is seeking to delay the expansion of its MAID law to include mental illness. How did this story first come on your radar?
RS: There was this Associated Press story from August, and it was a pretty depressing read about Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada. It was a very comprehensive read, actually. I urge everybody to read it. When I read it I was like, “Well, it’s interesting.” But one of the issues that I had with the story was that many of the stories were from several years ago, and had kind of just been recycled. They were speaking to the families of people who had applied for MAID, got approved, and then died. So we felt — my editor and I felt — that we should make this a little more current and actually speak to people who have applied for MAID. And not just the family members.
It is important to speak to the family members, but the family members generally tend to have a very different perspective. They typically don’t want their loved ones to go through this process. They want them to be around as long as possible. And so that complicates things, in terms of really trying to understand why people are applying for Medical Assistance in Dying. And so, one of the things that we wanted to focus on was speaking to people who had applied for MAID, and get a range of different stories, given the expansion of MAID in Canada for different things. You have Track 1 MAID, where death had to be reasonably foreseeable. And now you have Track 2 MAID, where death is not reasonably foreseeable — doesn’t have to be. And so it’s gotten really open. It’s gotten more easy to access.
Anyway, we wanted to bring these stories up-to-date. We wanted to speak to people who had actually applied for MAID, and people who are thinking of applying for MAID when it got expanded to mental illness as a sole underlying condition. Now, I should note that yesterday I saw a news story that the government is going to put a hold on MAID for mental illness. It was supposed to kick in March of 2023, but now it’s been postponed. They’re still reviewing all of this stuff, and they’re not going to go ahead with it in March of 2023. Which is interesting. I think there’s been a lot of public pressure. There’s been a lot of attention to MAID in Canada. International attention. Some of these stories are just shocking.
The lead story in my story was pretty shocking. Where you had this 23-year-old young man who has Type 1 diabetes, and he’s suffered vision loss in one eye and will gradually lose vision in his other eye. He was very frustrated with his situation in life. He applied for MAID in April or May of this year, and got approved by about August. He was scheduled to die in September. It was quite an extraordinary story. I came to know of it because his mother took to change.org and social media and said, “I’ve discovered that my son has been approved for MAID for the following reasons. I need to stop this procedure. I need your help bringing attention to this.” And the doctor and the people involved eventually, I think, felt that they couldn’t go ahead with it because of all this attention that they were getting. And so they withdrew from the case. Therefore, his life had essentially been saved.
TH: So he’s still alive today?
RS: Oh yes, yes, yes. His mother had 10 days to prevent him from dying. I mean, everything was scheduled — like the appointment with the physician who was going to administer the lethal combination of drugs that would make his heart stop and then he would die. The mother had 10 days to put a stop to this.
Now, I mentioned earlier about family members coming at it from a very different perspective than the person actually applying for MAID. The mother, she’s a mother. She wanted her son to be around. She loves her son and she would do anything for her son. And then the son, he is very angry with his mother for interfering in his life. He said, “I’m an adult. I make decisions for myself. This is not my mother’s concern. She should never have done this.” He was very angry and upset with her when I last spoke to him. He was looking at legal options. He was trying to pursue legal options, and trying to figure out how he could hold his mother to account for preventing something that he had decided to go ahead with as an adult.
But the interesting thing here, also, is that I spoke to him a few days after he was scheduled to die. It was Thanksgiving and he was spending Thanksgiving with his grandparents, just outside of Toronto. He was picking vegetables from his grandmother’s garden and he was grateful to be alive. It was very moving. It was touching. This is an extraordinary person. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s good looking, he’s very intelligent. He’s extremely self-aware. But he just didn’t want to live as a blind person with Type 1 diabetes. He just didn’t want to live that way for the rest of his life. It’s extraordinary that someone like that got approved for MAID.
TH: The story that you published was chilling. And the statistics that you’ve included in the story are also quite chilling. So, in our country, in 2021, roughly 10,000 people died through the MAID program. That constitutes 3 percent of overall deaths. This is major story in our country. What was the reaction to your reporting from the Canadian media?
RS: Well, I didn’t really see much of a reaction from the Canadian media. The Canadian media typically does not react to a lot of what I report on. I think one of the reasons [here] is that the Canadian media has also covered MAID quite extensively. Even before I wrote this, you’d see stories about people who had applied for MAID. There was one this past spring of a woman who couldn’t get housing because she suffered from some kind of a disability, some kind of a skin condition. I think I’m bungling this up, but she couldn’t get housing that would help her with her condition and she applied for MAID.
So, the Canadian media has been exposing these stories for sure. Perhaps that’s one reason why they didn’t really react to this at all. But I do think that my story about the 24-year-old that I just told you about, I think that was pretty chilling. I had not seen anything quite like that — where you have a family member fighting to save a son’s life. You have this doctor who’s very flippant. Like, “Yeah we’ll get your tooth extracted by Christmastime.” Because it’s just become like any other procedure. And — several people have pointed this out — it’s actually easier to get approved for MAID than than it is to get treatment for a condition in our healthcare system. Which is on the verge of collapsing.
TH: It’s quite a time. I do want to switch gears, now, to talking a little bit about some of the bigger trends in the media right now. And one of those trends is how the mainstream media reacts when stories come out that do not fit the major narratives of our time. One of the things that we’ve been talking about on the podcast series on independent journalism is that there’s a few strategies. One of them is this policing of narrative on Twitter. If a journalist steps out of line, you will see these pile-ons. It’s a way of manufacturing consent in the digital age. But another strategy is just to ignore the story entirely. We are seeing that play out somewhat right now with Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss’s reporting on the Twitter Files. What have your thoughts been on the rollout of that story — and the reaction to it?