Quebec fashion retailer La Maison Simons is facing criticism for videos that highlighted a B.C. woman’s choice to receive medical assistance in dying.
The videos – one 30-second version and a three-minute one – were released online in late October, the day after Jennyfer Hatch died. They feature Ms. Hatch speaking about finding beauty in her final days, and show footage of her gathering with loved ones – blowing bubbles on a beach, playing music and sharing cake around a table in the forest. The videos end with the phrase “All is Beauty,” with a small Simons logo appearing underneath.
“Even now, as I seek help to end my life, with all the pain, and in these final moments, there is still so much beauty,” Ms. Hatch says in a voice-over in the videos.
While the campaign does not feature any products or sales messages, it raises questions about whether it is possible for a company to focus on such sensitive issues without being perceived as co-opting them for brand-building purposes.
And it has attracted attention, including internationally, with some critics recently saying it “promotes euthanasia.”
The videos also do not provide context on Ms. Hatch’s illness or her experience with the health care system. Ms. Hatch had Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissues and can cause severe chronic pain and other complications. On Thursday, CTV News published a story revealing that Ms. Hatch was the same woman who spoke with a reporter this past summer – CTV did not publish her real name at the time – saying she was “falling through the cracks,” unable to access adequate care for her condition.
“To present anything related to medical assistance in dying as clean and beautiful, and tying it to consumer culture as if it is a free choice … strikes me as deeply problematic,” said Esther Ignagni, a professor in the School of Disability Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University. “What it covers over is all that we are not talking about with MAID. We are in a health care crisis.
“We know there are many people who cannot access even primary care, let alone complex care, good pain management, palliative care. For those people, medical assistance in dying may not be an option; it may be the only way out. Those are the difficult conversations we need to be having.”
The retailer’s chief merchant, Peter Simons, wrote in October that coming out of the pandemic, the company wanted to create something “meaningful.”
“Collectively, we have experienced loss, and in its wake, it can be difficult to find comfort, optimism, and hope,” he wrote in an October blog post that has since been removed from the company’s website. He added that the campaign was intended to be “less about commerce and more about connection.”
Ms. Hatch invited Simons to capture the moments with her loved ones on film, Mr. Simons wrote: “In return, she gave us a hymn to the unknown other and an ode to life.”
Mr. Simons declined a request for an interview Friday. The company has now made the videos private on YouTube, saying the campaign ended on Wednesday. They are still available elsewhere online.
“Simons is now entering their annual holiday sprint,” the company’s chief of staff, Katrin Rumprecht, wrote in a statement. “In this context, Peter’s and all of their teams’ efforts are focused on in-store and web holiday activities.”
In a statement, the Toronto-based advertising agency that created the campaign, Broken Heart Love Affair, cited “a deluge of online harassment and threats” resulting from the work, which it said was meant to spark conversation. “The film was designed to inspire and provoke conversation around Jennyfer’s desire to seek beauty in life, even as she neared the end of hers. It was never intended to become a political lightning rod,” the statement said.
Before the originals were taken offline, they had attracted more than one million views.
The timing of the campaign concerns Prof. Ignagni, coming as it did in the months leading up to the expansion of assisted dying, which would allow Canadians to apply for medically assisted death citing mental illness as their sole condition.
A number of medical experts have called on the federal government for a delay, saying the health care system needs time to prepare and ensure safeguards are in place before the changes take effect in mid-March.