Friday, February 6, 2015

Assisted suicide

A unanimous Supreme Court today struck down the Criminal Code provision against aiding and abetting someone to commit suicide. The Court said the provision deprives people suffering from grievous and irremediable medical conditions the right to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed under the Constitution.  In effect the Court said doctors can assist people to commit suicide. 

The court's ruling limits physician-assisted suicides to "a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and 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."

The court suspended the ruling for a year to give the federal and provincial governments time to draft a regulatory framework for physician-assisted suicide. The court did not set parameters for doctor-assisted dying beyond the criteria for who is eligible to access physician-assisted suicide.

What does this practically mean?

Well, for the next year not much will change. And thereafter it is unlikely many doctors will immediately change their approach and start to provide suicide assistance except in the most extreme cases. 

That said, over time assisted suicide will become more open and more common. It may be that a decade from now assisted suicide will be a regular part of hospital practice. 

Some might ask why judges and not elected parliamentarians made this decision - literarily a life and death matter. That's a good question and perhaps something that the legislative response to the Supreme Court decision can try to address. 

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

I've spent some time over the years looking into right to die regimes. My conclusion was that Oregon, where the Death with Dignity Act has been in effect since 1994, offers the best model.

Safeguards are needed to ensure the applicant isn't being coerced or cajoled or isn't simply a bit depressed. That requires an assessment process incorporating both interviews and counselling.

In Oregon, once you've satisfied all the tests, your physician is permitted to provide you with a scrip for life ending drugs. It's not required that the patient get the prescription filled or take the drugs if it is filled.

What this gets at is the critical part. It relieves the terror often associated with the dying process. The patient doesn't have to fear getting caught in an unendurable situation.

Many find that they can go through the process without resort to the drugs. You're more likely to die naturally if the psychological stresses are removed from the physical process.

Also having the drugs self-administered allows the patient to face death on their terms - not via some appointment to show up at a strange, sterile clinic.