Two views on the euthanasia ruling


2013-05-19 - 09.15.00 (Public)Arguing in favour

On Feb. 6, 2015, as a result of the Carter vs. Canada case, the Supreme Court of Canada lifted the prohibition on physician-assisted death.

The decision came after much deliberation and examination; the judge maintained that the ban on assisted death is a blatant violation of section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Tossing the fundamental justice bit into the text allows the Canadian government to erode our civil liberties when necessary with constitutional convenience.

Additionally, the prohibition violates Section 15 of the Charter, which reinforces that equality is to be issued to each person without discrimination and proportionality of the law must be relative.

Before I indulge in this topic, know that I accept the trial judge and all persons affiliated with accepting the appeal are knowledgeable individuals who have researched extensively and who rightfully preside over the general populous; these people represent Canadians and their decisions are reflective of our best interests.

I imagine the decision to lift the ban on physician-assisted death is rejected as a result of a thorough misunderstanding, and those who have taken time to read over the SCC case in full are likely to accept the amendment. For this reason, I will debunk a few misconceptions.

First of all, seeking a physician to help expedite the process of dying does not imply that Canadian doctors are murderers; they will not skip freely through hospitals pulling plugs and ending lives in lieu of treating their patients. The misconception that doctors are now “playing God” based on a mere judgement call is ridiculous.

In fact, if this ban is maintained and new laws surrounding physician-assisted death are created, it is very likely that healthcare professionals will be subject to incredibly detailed and restrictive regulations. The trial judge discredited this apprehension during the court hearing. “A properly administered regulatory regime is capable of protecting the vulnerable from abuse or error.”

Second, perhaps there is some confusion surrounding whom this anti-prohibition sentiment applies to. The stipulations for being considered, though detailed, will be measured on a case-by-case basis and will differ per individual.

While Canada prides itself on maintaining the sanctity of life and ensuring vulnerable individuals are safe, the distinction between a small ailment and what the court referred to as “grievous and irremediable medical conditions” is unmistakable.

Only competent adults (18 years old or older) who are in a position to give a distinctly clear and consensual acknowledgment to the termination of life will be considered for help from a physician — given this person has the aforementioned irremediable medical condition. The condition can be classified as an illness, disease or a disability but only individuals retain the right to make a choice for themself in a coherent state of mind.

This means that siblings or spouses cannot sign off on their deteriorating family members; it does, however, protect one’s family from being aggressively prosecuted by the Canadian Criminal Code which, until recently, condemned people from aiding a “suicide.”

Finally, any person who believes the lift of the prohibition is unconstitutional is simply incorrect. To offer the choice of a painless loss of life is not depriving our fellow Canadians but protecting their fundamental freedoms.

You have a right to life and you have a right to death. You have a right to liberty and you have a right to freedom from oppressive restrictions that keep you barely alive and in pain. You have a right to security and you have a right to remain safe in the hands of the state in which you reside.

Perhaps the most significant contribution, apart from this clear violation of our basic fundamental rights, is that denying physician-assisted death does not safeguard the general population from pre-emptive suicide as a response to a medical condition.

Moreover, “a number of the witnesses [during the trial] made clear that they — or their loved ones — had considered or in fact committed suicide earlier than they would have chosen to die if physician-assisted death had been available to them.”

The discourse is almost trivial; physician-assisted suicide is a logical progression in Canada. Do I not have a right to my autonomy? Do I not have a right to save myself from enduring pain that will strip me of my life? Do I not have a right to state sanctioned help?

If having fundamental rights in Canada renders me to a bed unable to bathe and feed myself or to communicate with my family who suffer having to watch a decrepit version of myself just survive, then I will, like many Canadians before me, end my life with the pull of a trigger or by ingesting copious amounts of toxic medication.

I don’t want to just survive, I want to live. That choice has been cemented in our constitution and it is about time our civil liberties are upheld.

– Cara Peticca

Arguing against

Remember when Parliament used to make laws in Canada? Who would have guessed after 150 years, nine unaccountable, unelected elites would dictate laws in Canada?

Ask yourself, why do our courts and the Charter exist? They’re supposed to be here to ensure that our democratic rule and popular opinion doesn’t end up trampling inalienable human rights.

But as seen over and over again since the Charter has been introduced, judges have frequently made rulings to appease the majority opinion.

Even worse, the courts have made rulings supporting values that the people who formed the Charter specifically rejected.

The reason for this betrayal of past values is how the Charter has now been described as a “living tree” that changes with the times. So our Charter, the only failsafe against the tyranny of the majority, is to be interpreted by that same majority. That’s a scary reality.

A clear example of this is the new ruling on euthanasia. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against it, however, early this year the courts unanimously ruled in favor of allowing this practice.

It’s true that the majority of Canadians support some form of euthanasia, but that’s only under the conditions that a patient is a rational adult, in pain and suffering from a terminal illness. However, this ruling states that terminal illness is not the only factor in the euthanasia process.

When the average Canadian says they support euthanasia, it’s because they picture a dying patient suffering intolerably. But what people don’t understand is that we have the medical ability to reduce and eliminate pain.

The problem is that we don’t provide enough palliative and end-of-life care to patients and in countries where euthanasia is legalized, palliative care decreases.   

Furthermore, there are those who pretend this all comes down to one person’s individual rights, but they forget we live in a socialized health care system. This means that public funding is going towards providing euthanasia. People like me who don’t support the practice have to pay for it, so no one’s opinion should be ignored.

Ideally, the system is supposed to work in such a way that parliament can reopen the Charter and make the necessary changes to allow for a new ruling. But that system has been hijacked by activist judges who no longer care about the intent behind the words of the Charter and instead make decisions based on their own personal views.

It doesn’t matter what your views on euthanasia are; what matters is that we are a parliamentary democracy, where the people and the party in power get to make laws.

It’s hard for the left-wing in Canada to get outraged considering most of the rulings are in their favour, but consider the fact that nine judges are now the most powerful people in Canada.

Canadians should be worried most about the newfound power of the Supreme Court. They’ve ignored their own precedent and struck down our laws.

They said Canada has become a different place since Sue Rodriguez, but since then, modern medicine has made natural death more painless than ever. So yes, times have changed, but inalienable human rights aren’t meant to change with them.

– Spencer Gibara





3 Responses to “Two views on the euthanasia ruling”

  1. Josie Luetke Avatar

    Because apparently my commentary is too long to post all together, I will post it in multiple sections. This is the second part.

    The right to liberty and security of person do not guarantee one the right to be killed either. One’s person is NOT secure when one is being killed. The right to liberty is not limitless either. If it was, then the Supreme Court should be consistent and allow anyone over 18 the freedom to choose to be killed (why restrict it to those with terminal illnesses?), decriminalize all drugs, and demand that the government recognize incestuous and polygamous marriages. After all, freedom to choose, right? (And yes, that would mean the Supreme Court essentially mandating libertarianism for Canada… see what happens when you let them make the rules?) The government has a responsibility to protect individual rights and freedoms but it also must balance these with the well-being of the public. If some of its citizens want to be killed, instead of aiding them in their goal, the government should do what it can to change their desire (as the government tries to change the desire of smokers). This means killing the pain, not the patient. We should eliminate the suffering, not the sufferer. Tackle the problem, not the victim of it. How do we do this? Palliative care, which, as Spencer said, we need more of, not less of. Palliative care is how Canada really ensures that vulnerable individuals are safe.

    Additionally, the prohibition would only violate Section 15 of the Charter if the “right to be killed” really was a right. Equality is not constitutionally ensured for that which is not a right (eg. becoming a sky diving instructor, travelling to Cuba in a yacht, etc.).

    I would also disagree with you, Cara, that the judges involved in this case represent Canadians. I never elected any of them. In fact, at no point in time did we Canadians ever get input as to whether they represent us or not. Whether their decisions are reflective of our best interests is up for debate, but I think it makes a lot more sense to let us decide what our best interests are.

    Doctors may not be playing God and willy-nilly killing everyone, but they can do so. The ways in which they may do this are subtle. They can overemphasize the severity of a diagnosis or even prescribe fewer painkillers than what is needed in order to increase the chances of a patient requesting assisted suicide. Their intentions need not be malicious. Perhaps they do so for the sake of efficiency, because there is a great demand for beds in our hospitals and doctors would rather see them go to patients with a chance of recovery. Perhaps the doctor genuinely thinks death would be better for a patient. Perhaps the doctor simply doesn’t like him or her. Sure, doctors always had this capacity to manipulate patients, but now the stakes are so much higher because the outcome of assisted suicide and euthanasia is of course, fatal. As these gentle nudges in the direction of death are so hard to catch, there is no way to protect the vulnerable from abuse or error. (Also, see my above ALS example in which the law is followed but the vulnerable are not protected either.)

    I must also take issue with: “While Canada prides itself on maintaining the sanctity of life and ensuring vulnerable individuals are safe, the distinction between a small ailment and what the court referred to as ‘grievous and irremediable medical conditions’ is unmistakable.” Regardless of whether you think abortion is justifiable or not, the unborn are distinct human beings (this is scientifically proven) and thus, Canada, with its complete absence of a law on abortion, has not maintained the sanctity of life and has not ensured that vulnerable individuals are safe. (There are other examples I could bring up regarding how Canada has failed the vulnerable– like the missing First Nations women and the mentally ill.) And yes, while there is a distinction between a small ailment and a grievous and irremediable medical condition, the line between them is blurred. While we know a grain of sand is not a pile, we cannot say exactly when grains of sand become a pile. Likewise, when does a medical condition become grievous and irremediable? For example, while there are many, many people living with Diabetes (for it is irremediable), when it is in a late stage, sufferers may go blind, lose sensation in their legs and feet (or experience pain) and because of nerve damage and poor circulation, develop skin ulcers, sores, and bruising. Eventually, their organs may fail. Is that grievous? At what point does it become so, Cara?

    Some common ground: I agree that you have a right to life and while I’m not sure that one has a ‘right’ to death, I can assure you that nobody will be deprived of it. Throughout my post, I have used the term ‘right to be killed’ because this much more accurately reflects what euthanasia and assisted suicide actually involve. I think when put that way, however, the ridiculousness of the idea that this is a right is made evident. I also don’t think a prohibition on assisted suicide and euthanasia counts as an “oppressive restriction.” As Spencer said, “we have the medical ability to reduce and eliminate pain.” Lastly, my ideas of what remaining safe constitutes always entail me being alive.

    So, to answer your questions, Cara, yes, you have a right to autonomy. Yes, you have a right to save yourself from enduring pain that will strip you of your life. Yes, you have a right to state sanctioned help. However, none of that requires assisted suicide or euthanasia.

    Finally, I want to remark on how you depict dependency at the end of your article. Being confined to a bed unable to bathe and feed yourself or communicate with your family DOES NOT strip you of your dignity. We all start our lives exactly so. Dependency is not something that we should fear or be ashamed of. One CAN live (and not merely survive) while in pain and dependent. To say otherwise is to dismiss the experiences of many of those who live with chronic pain or have a disability. Their lives are valuable too and with the right support system, they can be just as fulfilled and happy as the rest of us. Even when many of our abilities are impaired, we always have the capacity to love and be loved.

    In my last attempt to sway how you think of assisted suicide and euthanasia, I would encourage you to think about how we treat youths with mental illness and depression. They might be in the same amount of pain as someone with an irremediable and grievous illness and they might feel just as hopeless. However, our reaction is radically different. We do our best to convince them that their lives are worth living and they are valuable too. Why should this response not be universal when it comes to people wanting to end their lives? If we see someone on the side of a bridge and stop to see if we could help, should we just walk away when they declare that they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition? Or should we do all that we can to make sure they enjoy and appreciate the rest of their lives, regardless of how much time they have left?

  2. Josie Luetke Avatar

    I agree with Spencer in the respect that I am against the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to lift the prohibition on physician-assisted death and definitely think the Court is overstepping its power. However, while I blame this corruption of our democracy on activist (rather than neutral) judges, I think that the Charter is set up so that it easily facilitates such liberal interpretations. The rights and freedoms laid out in it are vague and imprecise, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine a way around this, which is why it’s much more preferable to have elected representatives VOTING upon important matters such as this one.

    For example, it’s easy to see how the “right to life” guaranteed in section 7 of the Charter can be cited in order to SUPPORT the ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia, as they take away someone’s life. Cara, you brought up pre-emptive suicide, but really anything from an increase in taxes to a decrease in social services can spur one’s suicide. The government has not violated a person’s right to life every time it puts a policy in place that people kill themselves over. I do, however, appreciate and share your concern about people taking their lives because they feel like they have no other option. That same concern, however, is present when assisted suicide and euthanasia is legalized.

    Imagine that someone has just received an ALS diagnosis. (I am using ALS as an example because it is often brought up in debates about assisted suicide and euthanasia.) They are in a very vulnerable mental state because many of their life plans have just been effectively destroyed. Because of legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia, there are fewer people with ALS who might be able to relate to what they are going through. They feel isolated and the very doctors whom they trust are telling them that they can consider just ending it all. In fact, in the regulations that have arisen after the Supreme Court ruling (because this is a hypothetical), people with ALS have been specifically included as those with a poor enough quality of life as to warrant assisted suicide or euthanasia. So, they start to wonder about how their life can be worthwhile when both revered medical staff and others with ALS think it’s better to be dead than to continue with the disease. This ALS patient sees how much of a burden is placed on their family and feels responsible for it. Because many potential buyers and test subjects are choosing to be killed, drug researchers have less of an incentive to work on a cure for ALS. This person with ALS decides to be killed, despite the fact that had assisted suicide and euthanasia been illegal, they would not have done so.

    If pre-emptive suicides are going to be used to appeal to the right to life, why not also use the above scenario?

  3. Spencer Gibara Avatar

    Thank you for your comments! :)

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