In an historic ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the ban on doctor assisted suicide. The decision was unanimous.
The decision states that the current ban infringes on all three of the life, liberty, and security of person provisions in the Canadian Charter, and it does not limit physician assisted death to those with terminal illnesses.
The court will leave it up to Parliament and provincial legislatures to come up with a comprehensive set of laws, but it laid out the parameters. Firstly, it would be legal only for competent adults who explicitly request or consent and not people who have been delegated their substitute decision makers. This would seem to address the concerns of substitute decision makers making decisions for people who don't have competence.
It was surprising to me that the illness does not have to be terminal, it can be chronic. The legislation would apply to incurable illnesses that are 'grievous and remedial causing enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.'
According to the court, doctors should be capable of assessing whether the person is competent and that risks associated with doctor assisted suicide can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards which can be put in place to protect the vulnerable from 'abuse or error.' In addition, doctors would not be compelled to provide assistance in dying.
One of the applicants at the heart of the case, the late Gloria Taylor had stated:
'I do not want my life to end violently. I do not want it to be traumatic for my family members. What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes my life. I do not want to die slowly, piece by piece. I do not want to waste away unconscious in a hospital bed. I do not want to die wracked in pain.'
So what are your thoughts on this ruling? In my opinion, the Supreme Court of Canada has made a decision that comes down on the side of compassion. I believe the debate over 'dying with dignity' is not the issue; dignity is a subjective term on both sides, since some consider losing control of their bodies and minds undignified, while others may see it as a courageous and defiant way to go. I am also not convinced the legislation would devalue the rights of the disabled. Stephen Fletcher, a Conservative MP who is a quadriplegic, stated 'I'm disabled. I'm as disabled as you can get. But I don't think my life is going to be diminished because, in the hospital down the street, there's less suffering.'
To me, the heart of the debate is whether we believe people suffering from horrible conditions the rest of us can't understand or imagine or fully appreciate, should have the right to end their suffering in a humane way that is free from political, ideological, or religious interference. I hope to see legislation come forward in the following year that respects these rights. .