I read, in an article in MacLean’s magazine, saying that advocates of the “right to die” are unhappy with the government’s proposed legislation because it does not go far enough. Some other observers, like Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, and columnist Andrew Coyne, probably think it goes too far. The issues are moral and legal, not political.
I am not critical of the government on this issue. It is an extraordinarily difficult question and I doubt that anyone can be really satisfied with any outcome.
The Supremes were right, I believe, to tell parliament to amend the laws, but they, properly, did not tell legislators how to do that.
My own, personal beliefs are:
- Suicide, it seems to me, is, mainly, a religious issue, not a legal or political one. Suicide seems to have been an acceptable choice in some classical Western cultures and appears to remain so in some Asian cultures. It is, I think, a modern (by which I mean post the Roman Empire) convention to regard suicide as, somehow, an offence against society.
- Suicide ought not to be a crime nor an act that triggers administrative sanctions ~ e.g. suicide clauses in insurance policies that deny benefits ought not to be allowed, by law.
- If suicide is not a crime then assisting in it ought not to be a crime either.
- Counselling suicide, on the other hand, ought not to be allowed.
- (I understand I’m splitting hairs here: my intent is that if I decide, of my own free will, to end my life then you ought not to be punished for helping me, but you should not be allowed to go around encouraging people to end their lives ~ that’s a private choice.)
- No one should ever be forced into assisting in a suicide.
Given that decriminalizing and destigmatizing suicide are very broad, very difficult subjects and not something Parliament has been told to do, then:
- The right to die ought to be unquestioned for any adult with an illness that causes intolerable pain and suffering. Therefore, the requirement that death from the ailment ought to be reasonable foreseeable ought to be dropped.
- It should be the right of the person with the intolerable pain to seek assistance in ending their own life.
- It should not be a crime to assist a person with intolerable pain to end their life.
- It should remain a crime to procure illegal drugs, etc.
- No person and no institution should be required to assist in a suicide.
- The Canadian Medical Association should issue guidelines to physicians asking those who, for their own good reasons, do not with to be involved in assisted dying to refer patients who want to end their lives to responsible sources of help.
Obviously I have no good ideas on how to deal with many contentious issues: how to deal with children who are suffering, for example, or whether or not certain lethal drugs ought to be made available and under what conditions.
I think the government has made a step; maybe not as big a step as some would want but, I believe, bigger than many like. I hope that all Members of Parliament will debate this and vote with their own definitions of the public good at the top of their minds.