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Canada’s Supreme Court Reverses Its Earlier Ruling on Assisted Suicide

Canadian Dying with Dignity official Linda Jarrett


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John Burger - published on 02/06/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Panel orders Canadian government to allow procedure within one year.

The Supreme Court of Canada is naïve to think that assisted suicide will not be abused, when abuse already occurs, said the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, in response to Friday’s ruling permitting assisted suicide throughout Canada.

The court unanimously struck down a ban on doctor-assisted suicide for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses, declaring that how people choose to confront such conditions is "critical to their dignity and autonomy."

Canada-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition cited the experience that the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have had with assisted suicide, saying, "Unless Canada’s Parliament resists this same direction, this will be the same experience in Canada."

The coalition explained:

Recently, a depressed healthy man who was recently retired, but alone and lonely, died by euthanasia in the Netherlands. In Belgium, a healthy depressed woman died from euthanasia after experiencing the break-up of a long-term relationship. In Switzerland, a man died by assisted suicide after receiving a wrong diagnosis.

Giving doctors the right to cause the death of their patients will never be safe and no amount of “so-called safeguards” will protect those who live with depression or abuse. There will always be people who will abuse the power to cause death and there will always be more reasons to cause death. 

… Depression is common for people with significant health conditions. Assisted suicide is an abandonment of people who live with depression who require support and proper care.

The Supreme Court’s decision reverses its own decision two decades ago and gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of consenting adults who are enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help ending their lives. The current ban on doctor-assisted suicide stands until then.

The judgment said the ban infringes on the life, liberty and security of individuals under Canada’s constitution. It had been illegal in Canada to counsel, aid or abet a suicide, an offense carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

"The law allows people in this situation to request palliative sedation, refuse artificial nutrition and hydration, or request the removal of life-sustaining medical equipment, but denies the right to request a physician’s assistance in dying," the ruling noted.

Canadian law defines assisted suicide as "providing another with the knowledge or means to intentionally end his or her own life."

Some in the disabled community, are disappointed in the decision.

"Those of us who have been working in disability rights for many years were deeply disappointed and discouraged by the… decision," said Amy Hasbrouck, from Not Dead Yet Canada, in an email to Aleteia. "Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized that discrimination caused great risk with disabilities…. Now, the Supreme Court has decided that the risk is not important enough to protect people."

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition also touched on the danger the decision poses to the disabled: "Assisted suicide creates new paths of abuse for elders, people with disabilities and other socially devalued people," its statement said. "The scourge of elder abuse in our culture continues to grow."

Hasbrouck said Canada will have to now ask "some very important and profound questions: how do we reconcile having a suicide prevention policy at the same time as providing assistance to suicide? How can we justify killing people who are in pain when we do not provide adequate pain services? How can we justify killing people whose requests to die arise from intolerable living conditions caused by discriminatory public policy? Does Canada want to visit the flaws in its public policies on its citizens who are made by vulnerable my those policies? Those important questions, that were not resolved during the earlier debate, must now be answered in order to develop a system that will harm The fewest people."

For their part, Canada’s Catholic bishops called on legislators to interpret the court’s ruling narrowly and urged Catholics to work to restore a culture of life.

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