music painter

It seems appropriate that I recap on my February 2014 article "Is Suffering Necessary?"

On February 5, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada right to die ruling opened the door for those who are terminally ill or live with unbearable pain. It will give them the autonomy of timing the end of their lives. On a winter's day in 1994 the "right to die" became visible when Sue Rodriguez passed away with the assistance of an anonymous doctor. No one was charged for her death, but it sets the tone for future proceedings regarding assisted suicide. Justice Ministers, a Prime Minister, House of Commons Members, Special Senate Committees, judges, The Canadian Medical Association, and the RCMP all had a part in the debate.

The committee determined that "to deny the right to assisted suicide was unconstitutional" which is a great step forward, for those who wish to manage their deaths. The move points to a small segment of the population and refers to a competent adult, who will consent to termination of his or her life. Moreover, it must be a "grievous and irremediable medical condition, illness, disease, or disability" along with intolerable suffering. The Government has twelve months to change the existing law to a new one.

Moreover, it must be a "grievous and irremediable medical condition, illness, disease, or disability"

I gather the work will focus on subjects about the right to die such as removing life support or essential medication when death is imminent. Another option refers to the patient who cannot make his or her decisions allowing doctor-assisted suicide as an option. In all likelihood they'll consider the legal instrument "Do Not Resuscitate" which directs the patient's treatment choices ahead of time, allowing the patient to die naturally. Two other devices are the Five Wishes document that is an advance directive about treatment and end of life values. The other important instrument, created through a personal decision, is the Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA) which designates a trusted agent to make decisions in case of incapacity and isolates decisions away from strangers. If someone wants to undergo voluntary euthanasia, who has the right to say if it is an ethical or institutional entitlement?

Although a truly historic decision, Jodi Lazare suggests it might be a "fleeting victory" (Toronto Star March 9, 2015). She states the government's shares its jurisdiction over health both provincially and federally with the latter taking the lead. Her suggestions hint at the possibility of a 2016 federal Parliament's new law that could turn assisted dying into illegality. If so, the provincial law permitting it would be invalid. Lazare argues provincial laws supporting assistance in dying were not immunised from federal law operatives creating a serious barrier to this kind of progressive legislation practised in other countries. So when Ms Lazare states that the "court doesn't get the last word" we wonder who does. Consequently, the federal government could override the Quebec efforts with its comprehensive legislation on dying.

As we know, our Canadian government clings to a long-standing position in defence of a criminal prohibition on assisted dying so that we could see provincial efforts blocked by a new federal law. Just as the need for stability in any personal decision, such as to die by choice, this government's processes are slowed by its members' ideologies and thinking. Furthermore, society has varying views and degrees of tolerance including denial and condemnation of the right to die. For example, the Catholic faith denounces suicide, assisted or not, as a grave sin.

So complexity is the word of the day. The lack of consensus by those in authority who can make changes in who has what right will bring us back "full circle". The outcome could result in private actions taken by those who believe they have the right to time their deaths. In any case, we won't stop singing/shouting for the enactment of the new right to die law. ©

Right to Die Legislation Iffy


March 15, 2015


James Kershaw


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