End-of-Life, Humanity

Decriminalize Assisted Suicide: Why Not?

If the federal government is leaving medical care and health care to the provinces as in making transfer payments and each province implements its own health care and medical care, than why are they not doing the same with assisted suicide or dying with dignity? How can refusing medical treatment or assisted dying be considered criminal? Quebec has decided assisted suicide or dying with dignity is part of medical care and should fall under the jurisdiction of the province vs. being a federal matter. Quebecers overwhelmingly support this-making assisted dying a possibility. Considering all the negative one reads and hears about with Quebec re: language laws and discriminatory legislation aimed at anglophones (English-speaking ) and allophones (mother tongue other than English or French) and in a sense French speaking Quebecers (not able to attend English schools) as well, it is nice to know that Quebec is progressive on some issues. The Federal criminal code prohibits assisted dying-redefining it as a provincial health matter. In 2012, the province of British Columbia declared in a ruling that criminalizing assisted dying is unconstitutional according to the BC Supreme Court.

The federal government appealed this decision-we are waiting a verdict. Does this issue not fall under individual freedom? Individual rights? Medical Care?

The Canadian Medical Association met last week for a policy convention and no recommendation was issued on the topic. How can that be? Other countries offer their citizens this choice……

Suicide itself is not illegal in Canada, but attempted suicide was not removed from our Criminal Code until 1972. However, counseling suicide – sometimes referred to as aiding and abetting suicide, still remains a criminal act.

Assisted dying is a choice that an individual may make for an illness, disease or medical condition that is terminal, causes unbearable pain, loss of mobility, ability to communicate verbally or cognitively-ability to make choices in a rational manner. It is not a choice that should be available to just anyone without the proper medical or mental health support from physicians, nurse, social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. This requires an inter-disciplinary team consultation and collaboration with the patient and family. Assisted suicide is also an issue I have written on before: Assisted Suicide and End of Life Rules on Social Justice Solutions (SJS).

Why are other provinces, states, countries not making dying with dignity a front and center issue? Imagine being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)- a fatal neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s, cancer that slowly metastasize to your internal organs knowing that slowly your body will be ‘robbed’ of its mobility and basic functions? The pain is unbearable and no medication can get to the root of it. What would you choose for your child, your spouse, your parent, your best friend? Would you want them to suffer unnecessarily? Would you support their decision to die with dignity? What would you want in the same situation?

These are not easy questions, but they deserve the same attention one would give to basic human rights of shelter, food, education, clothing and employment.

Why is it acceptable to relieve an animals suffering and put them to sleep with the advice/consultation of a vet, but this same option is not available to humans?

I hope to see dying with dignity or assisted dying become a front and center issue as the population continues to age and more fall into the over 65+ demographic. Here is a website worth looking at: Dying with Dignity.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

7 thoughts on “Decriminalize Assisted Suicide: Why Not?”

  1. Victoria, I’m doing what I can down here in the US. See my TEDx talk at http://youtu.be/_emItC-9ves . If for some reason the link fails, google Bart Windrum TEDx and it’ll come up. The talk’s titled “Dying IN Peace to Die AT Peace – New Terms of Engagement” and in it I offer a brand new expanded definition of “dying” that’ll help everyone better anticipate the outcome they want and the outcomes they don’t want. I also rebut the Australian doctor Peter Saul who, in an otherwise sensitive TEDx talk of Fall 2011, labeled choice in dying / self-directed dying as a “sideshow.”

    1. I viewed the Tedx talk on ‘Dying IN Peace to Die AT peace.’ Very good and well presented. Not a topic many want to raise or discuss, but it is needed in the general society, with government, and with professionals; all with a focus on the individual who is dying and their wishes.

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