Assisted Dying – Only the Beginning?
The issue of physician-assisted death has attracted national media attention, particularly over the course of the last year, and we have blogged on it throughout that time-frame, including most recently here.
Although the new legislation is in its infancy, it is already attracting criticism. A patient’s death must be “reasonably foreseeable” and the patient’s condition must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in order to qualify.
Beth Lamb, a 25-year-old British Columbia woman, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a progressive disease, is reported to be challenging the legislation. Her lawyers argue that the requirement that death be “reasonably foreseeable” unfairly excludes patients with chronic and untreatable conditions. Some of the groups Ms. Lamb’s lawyers assert are left out include those with Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. They note that such individuals may be faced with the prospect of decades of suffering if they do not qualify for an assisted death.
The constitutional challenge has been filed to the B.C. Supreme Court, and it is expected that it may ultimately proceed before the Supreme Court of Canada. We will be watching to see how it unfolds.
A similarly sensitive and emotional subject area is one of making decisions to withdraw life support. This has recently been tackled by Shelley Hobbs (a lawyer with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee) in her award-winning play, A Good Death. This week’s edition of the Lawyers Weekly includes a nice article about the play, which revolves around a woman in her 30s left in a coma after being hit by a car, with conflict ensuing between her close friend and substitute decision-maker and her estranged mother. Although it may appear on the surface to be somewhat gloomy subject matter, the director describes the play as “life-affirming”. Perhaps something to check out at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the long weekend,