The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Carter case is a devastating one in that it allows assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Court struck down section 241 of the Criminal Code which forbids assisted suicide and section 14 which forbids euthanasia. Section 241 says that “everyone who counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids or abets a person to commit suicide whether suicide ensues or not is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.” Section 14 of the Criminal Code states: “No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.”
By removing the prohibition on assisted suicide and euthanasia, the Court abandoned the societal good of protecting human life. It is only when these practices are prohibited by law that vulnerable persons are truly protected. The Court reversed its 1993 judgement in Rodriguez v. British Columbia which upheld the ban on assisted suicide. Stating that the law was “overbroad”, the court ruled:
“We conclude that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent adult of such assistance where the person affected clearly consents to the termination of life; and the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
Suffering in this decision is meant to include both psychological and physical suffering. Under section 7 of the Charter pertaining to the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the Court essentially found that the right to life includes the right to die. The Court determined that the ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide ” deprives some individuals of life” because an individual might to be compelled to commit suicide prematurely fearing that he might not be able to do so at a later stage of his condition. A rather strange assessment and understanding of the right to life! The decision is also replete with imprecise language such as “assisted dying” and completely overrides the fact that from 1991 to 2010, Parliament voted on six occasions against decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide. The last time resulted in a vote of 228 against to 59 in favour.
‘Assisted death’, ‘physician assisted dying’, ‘medical aid in dying’, these terms coined by euthanasia advocates are used to mask the horrific reality of these practices. The physician will not be assisting your death, he will be causing it. In assisted suicide, the doctor provides the patient with a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs. The patient is supposed to self administer the lethal dose. In euthanasia, the physician will administer a lethal injection with the intention of causing the patient’s death. Either way, the doctor is involved in killing not health care. These practices will seriously harm the doctor patient relationship. Involving physicians in killing is detrimental for the medical profession and patients.
Highly vulnerable communities will be the most affected by this terrible ruling. The fear of being a burden, loneliness, depression and despair, all these may be a factor in requests for euthanasia and assisted suicide. Proponents of these practices always try to persuade us that safeguards will protect patients. Yet the experience with euthanasia and assisted suicide in jurisdictions where it is legal provides evidence that abuses occur. In Holland and Belgium, the data show that patients have been ‘terminated’ without explicit request or consent.
The Supreme Court stated that “nothing in this declaration would compel physicians to o provide assistance in dying”. A physician will not be coerced to euthanize or provide a lethal prescription. There is cause for concern however because it then adds that the “rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled”. In light of the new policy of the College of Surgeons and Physicians of Ontario forcing physicians to refer for services in spite of conscientious or moral objections to these services, will referrals for assisted suicide and euthanasia be mandatory as well?
The Supreme Court has suspended its decision for twelve months saying that Parliament can enact a new legislative regime if it so chooses. Parliament also has the option of invoking the notwithstanding clause which would suspend the Supreme Court decision for five years and maintain the prohibition on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Consider the profound consequences for patients and physicians if euthanasia and assisted suicide now become part of our medical care system. The vast majority of palliative care physicians does not want to be involved in euthanasia or assisted suicide. In a February 9th article in the Canadian Medical Association journal, palliative care physician Dr. Jessica Simon of Calgary, Alberta says: The intentional act of ending someone’s life is not part of palliative medicine . I’ve never had a case where someone has had to die in order to relieve their suffering, because we have other tools at our disposal, including palliative sedation.”…
She continues, “I do not look forward to the day when I come home and someone says ‘What did you do at work today?’ and I say ‘Today I killed somebody’.”