BC Ban on doctor-assisted suicide continues
by Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
A controversial topic at best, physician-assisted suicide will continue to have an outright ban in British Columbia after the province’s Court of Appeal affirmed the law on 10 October 2013. One year ago, the late Gloria Taylor won a breakthrough case in BC’s Supreme Court where it was stated to be unconstitutional that assisted suicide was made illegal. The ban, according to Justice Lynn Smith, was discriminatory against people with physical disabilities in relation to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, it was impossible for Miss Taylor to end her own life, as she was suffering from ALS (Amyotrphic Lateral Sclerosis), while an able-bodied person could. Gloria Taylor herself passed away from an illness before needing the aid of a doctor.
The federal government immediately appealed the BC Supreme Court ruling, and it was sent to the BC Court of Appeal. The federal government claimed that the law against assisted-suicide helps to protect vulnerable people, and in the end, the Court of Appeal agreed in what was a very tense decision. At this point, the case is expected to make its way to the Canadian Supreme Court.
In 1993, the Canadian Supreme Court was brought a similar case from Victoria-resident Sue Rodriguez who, like Taylor, suffered from the effects of ALS. It was also a very close decision, and ended with a split 5 to 4 rejection.
Some argue that having an absolute ban causes more suffering to the patient. Currently, it is legal to commit suicide, but illegal to have aid. So, the worry becomes that people with ALS and other disabling diseases could try to end their own life, but fail to do so and put themselves in a situation of more suffering. Also, with such strong regulations without loopholes, at least one person, Kay Carter, has flown to Switzerland to legally have her life ended. Rodriguez considered travelling down to California, but in 1993 the state proposition to allow assisted-suicide was struck down, and so she stayed in British Columbia and focused her energy on putting an end to the law there. From this viewpoint, perhaps the solution is to offer some protection, but in severe cases where the individual feels helpless and the medical observations are in accordance, it could be opened up for discussion.
On a more critical level, those who want assisted suicide argue that it is ultimately the decision of the individual should they wish to end their life. They question whether it is reasonable for others to make that decision, and they support people like Taylor and Rodriguez who were unquestionably living a life of misery once the effects of ALS started to take over their lives.
On the other side of the argument is the opinion that it would give doctors too much authority, as well as potentially opening up the door to interpretations of appropriate times to enact the right-to-die. One advocacy group against assisted-suicide, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, argues that, “depression is the most common factor in requests for assisted suicide. Depression can be diagnosed and treated successfully.” It is also often brought up that miracle recoveries sometimes occur; so in that sense, assisted-suicide is on the same playing field as homicide, and currently Canadian law agrees with that, making no clear distinction between euthanasia, suicide, or homicide, but only the reasons behind how it occurred. Lastly, some religious groups oppose assisted-suicide because it goes against their faith. For example, ‘pikuach nefesh’ is one of the most important rules in Judaism, it means to ‘save all life;’ according to the Torah each individual life is seen as having infinite value regardless of the wishes of the patient.
Currently in North America, there are three states where it is legal: Washington, Oregon and Vermont. In Canada it will undoubtedly remain hotly contested for the foreseeable future. In British Columbia, it has certainly been a turbulent case, where assisted-suicide went from finally being legal, to being repealed within a year. Is it a progressive stance to give people power over their lives, or will the deregulation cause more harm than good? Tell us your opinion on Facebook at Over the Edge Newspaper.