Last week the Canadian government announced plans to appeal a British Columbia court decision allowing doctor assisted suicide.
Last month, the British Columbia Supreme Court struck down a ban on doctor assisted suicide, but granted a one-year stay to give Parliament time to rewrite the law. There was an exception to the stay, though, that allowed applicant Gloria Taylor, who has ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, to end her life when she sees fit with the help of a doctor.
The government’s decision to appeal the ruling is questionable.
Anyone at death’s door should have a right to die when and how they see fit. According to Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights : “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
Not everyone agrees with interpretations of the section that it includes allowing a terminally ill person to die with medical help, but it’s a worthwhile interpretation.
A person of sound mind, who is suffering from an ever-worsening debilitating condition should have the option of choosing a humane death, not constant pain with no quality of life. That’s not living.
In the federal government’s decision to appeal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the ban protects the vulnerable in our society, including the elderly and disabled, and touted the 1993 Supreme Court of Canada ruling upholding the law saying it, “acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation.”
What he didn’t say was that the 1993 Supreme Court’s ruling was close, with four of the nine judges upholding the lower court’s ruling.
Those supporting judges spoke about the ability for the criminal code to protect the vulnerable, called the law prohibiting an assisted death “arbitrary,” and argued that it doesn’t keep with “fundamental justice.”
“Dying is an integral part of living and, as a part of life, is entitled to the protection of s. 7. It follows that the right to die with dignity should be as well protected as is any other aspect of the right to life,” one of the dissenting judges wrote. “State prohibitions that would force a dreadful, painful death on a rational but incapacitated terminally ill patient are an affront to human dignity.”
While the ruling swung in favour of upholding Canadian law, it wasn’t definitive by any means.
Until 1972 it was illegal to attempt suicide and those convicted of doing faced jail time. Today, as a society, there are resources put in place for those who’ve attempted to end their life, giving them a second chance. Society’s view changed then and it can, and seems to be, changing again. The government’s decision to fight the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide falls in the face of many Canadians’ values. It’s also a waste of money during a time when ministry budgets are being slashed and vital programs closing.
A person should, while of sound mind, be able to choose to die with dignity for their own peace and that of their loved ones. No one wants to watch others suffer. And we certainly shouldn’t force them to for the sake of our own personal beliefs.