EFFECTS OF LEGALIZED PHYSICIAN ASSISTED SUICIDE IN CANADA
By BRIAN CARLISLE A.A.,B.A.
May 5, 2015
My first so publication in the Canadian Journal of Criminology Research, in Spring 2015 edition.
Until very recently Canadian law prohibited suicide, assisted suicide, euthanasia or physician – assisted suicide (PAS). In the Canadian Criminal Code and pursuant to section 241(CCC, 2012: s. 241). “Everyone who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years” (CCC, 2012: s. 241).
Canadian physicians and hospitals have developed practices of euthanasia (CBC News, 2012. Such as giving a lethal injection, or when a physician doesn’t resuscitate a patient, or discontinues life-support equipment (CBC News, 2012). Many such interventions are in direct contravention of Canadian criminal law and the majority of charter challenge cases have attempted to legalize active PAS with the legal argument’s focus on the debate over a patient’s autonomy (CBC News, 2012).
Euthanasia and assisted suicide already exists legally in many countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany (Smith, 1997). “Doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients in five U.S. states”. In Germany, “active-assisted suicide” is legal “as long as the legal drug is taken without any aid. In Switzerland, the law is more relaxed, “ensuring mainly against “self-seeking motives”…Euthenasia is legal in Belgium, “but the presence of a physician is required….Belgium also became the first country to legalize euthenasia for children.” (The Guardian, 2015).
However, in most countries suicide is frowned upon, and assisted suicide is both condemned and illegal in most parts of the world. This reflects society’s fear of a “slippery slope” which may lead from assisted suicide to legalized murder (Smith, 1997).
DESCRIPTION OF LAW CHANGE:
A unanimous Supreme Court of canada ruling, has established “that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage into death,” extending Canadian constitutional rights into a new realm”…and “will change the way some Canadians are permitted to die”.(Globe and Mail, 2015). In its poweful opening paragraph the court stated, “Those who are severely and irremediably suffering, whether physically or psychologically, may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering” by the government’s absolute ban on assisted dying. A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.” ”.(Globe and Mail, 2015). Ity further ordered that, that individuals cannot ‘waive’ their right to life. This would create a ‘duty to live,’” ”.(Globe and Mail, 2015). Many disability advocates object to the ruling, “Because it is not restricted to the terminally ill, but to a broader group who have a “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” it means “all persons with a serious disability in Canada can access assisted suicide, a degree of pemissiveness that does not exist anywhere else in the world.” (Globe and Mail, 2015). Proponent see it as a god send, which now enables Canadians to “have a choice to die with dignity in their (our) own country, surrounded by friends and family.” (Globe and Mail, 2015).
Today in Canada’s medical practices “Passive euthanasia” is called “appropriate care.” and is universally practiced in most Canadian hospitals (Schafer, 2009). To date no Canadian physician has ever been charged with a criminal offence for withholding or withdrawing life support, whether at the request of a dying patient, in compliance with a living will or at the request of the patient’s family when the patient was no longer competent (Schafer, 2009).
Indirect or passive euthanasia is an established form of palliative type care. Today, many Canadian hospitals have palliative-care wards in which the overall treatment goal is to keep the patient comfortable rather than to prolong life (Schafer, 2009). In these wards and in hospices for the dying, there is little hesitation in administering whatever dose of painkiller is required for comfort, even when the foreseeable consequence is accelerated death (Schafer, 2009).It is quite evident that legalizing and regulating active physician assisted suicide would be the logical progression to illegal assisted suicide methods and prevent any possible abuses or dangers to vulnerable patients unable to give proper end of life consent (Smith, 1997).
Any knowledgeable individual is capable of accepting the nature and consequences of the decision to be made and capable of communicating this decision (Tiedemann, Valiquet, 2008). An incompetent individual is not capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the choice to be made, and/or is not capable of communicating the decision. Several Criminal Code provisions encroach upon the issues of euthanasia and cessation of treatment. Section 14 of the Code provides that: No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given. Section 222 of the Criminal Code includes it as Homicide (Marlisa Tiedemann, Dominique Valiquet, 2008). Canadian jurisprudence could charge and convict a physician for assisting with the dignified death of their patient without an end to euthanasia prohibition.
DESCRIPTION OF THE MERITS OF THE LAW CHANGE:
Historically suicide and mercy type killing was accepted as a societal norm, but with the evolution of Christianity this changed to suicide being a violation not only of the social contract norms but also a violation of covenants with God (Schafer, 2009). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the “Summa Theologiae” that since organisms strive to survive, suicide is an unnatural act (Schafer, 2009). Religion also believes that it adversely affects the community and violates the property rights of God the true owner of a person’s spirit (Schafer, 2009). Christianity regards suicide as equal to an abuse or misuse of God’s possession the human soul which is temporarily lodged in a corporeal mansion the body (Schafer, 2009). Century’s later paternalism was propagated by Sir William Blackstone, known as the codifier of British Law. Paternalism believes that suicide is self-murder and a grave felony, which the state has a right to prevent and to punish for and in certain countries this is still the case (Schafer, 2009). In Israel, for instance, a soldier is considered to be “military property” and an attempted suicide is severely punished as “the corruption of an army chattel”(Schafer, 2009). Paternalism, a malignant transformation of kindness, is about objectifying people and treating them as possessions (Schafer, 2009). Even fully-informed and consenting adults are not granted full, unmitigated autonomy, freedom, and privacy (Schafer, 2009). Without PAS this tends to breed “victimless crimes” such as an illegal assisted suicide (Schafer, 2009).
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