To Be or Not To Be: The Right to Die in Canada
In several countries and states in the US, those suffering from terminal illnesses which give rise to unbearable mental or physical suffering are able to choose to die with the assistance of a medical physician. This controversial route is often seen as the best option in dire circumstances, where one wishes to maintain dignity in the face of impending death.
Only days before his own death, respected physician Dr. Donald Low made a public plea for Canadians to encourage assisted suicide legislation to be passed in Canada. Dr. Low’s views are being echoed by the vast majority of Canadians in recent years, where some statistics show that 80% of Canadians support the idea of allowing a medical doctor to assist a fully informed and competent patient suffering from a terminal illness to end their life.
Currently, no Canadian jurisdictions have right-to-die legislation in effect; however, for the first time in Canada, Quebec tabled Bill 52 which contains draft right-to-die legislation this past June. Federally, assisted suicide is illegal across Canada due to the application of section 241 of the Criminal Code; however, at least one recent Supreme Court ruling has questioned the constitutionality of this Criminal Code provision.
If Bill 52 passes and becomes law, Canadians may have the opportunity to create living wills which spell out circumstances in which euthanasia is a desirable alternative. Clearly, the controversy associated with such a drastic shift in attitude by the legislatures raises concerns for many. One such concern is based upon the need to ensure that the elderly do not feel compelled to agree to assisted suicide in order to reduce financial burdens on their families. Clearly, the capacity to decide to end one’s own life is also a serious issue which requires clarification by the legislatures.
Assisted suicide legislation will likely take some time to pass. Bill 52 has only passed its first reading in Quebec, and some feel that the Bill touches upon federal jurisdiction, raising issues as to the constitutionality of the proposed laws. Regardless of the outcome of currently tabled law and judicial findings, it appears that Canadian attitudes are shifting towards a greater acceptance of the right-to-die, which may lead to serious changes in laws reflecting these controversial policies in years to come.
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