Euthanasia in Canada

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Legislation on euthanasia in Canada distinguishes between passive euthanasia (withholding or withdrawing of life-preserving procedures including water and food) and active euthanasia (intentionally killing a person to relieve pain). Whereas passive euthanasia is legal in Canada, active euthanasia is illegal and is considered to be murder.[1]

Laws on assisted suicide[edit]

Suicide is not a crime in Canada and hasn't been since 1972, but physician-assisted suicide is illegal.[2]

The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241(b) that

  • “Every one who ….(b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years” [3]

However, on Friday, June 15, 2012, the Supreme Court of British Columbia struck down these sections on constitutional grounds as they apply to severely disabled patients capable of giving assent: "the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe s. 7 [and s. 15 ] of the Charter, and are of no force and effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted suicide by a medical practitioner in the context of a physician-patient relationship". Moreover, the court found that the relevant sections were legislatively overbroad, had a disproportionate effect on people with disabilities, and were "grossly disproportionate to the objectives it is meant to accomplish."[4]

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General has appealed the last decision considering that laws that prohibit and punish euthanasia and assisted suicide are constitutionally valid and exist to protect all Canadian people, "including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities."[5] He also added: "The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993). In April 2010, a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic." [5]

Value placed on human life[edit]

According to the current federal government, the reason behind its illegality is due to prevent people from ‘assisting in suicide’ of those that are not mentally capable of making the decision and because of the “value that society [places] on human life” which “in the eyes of the law makers, might easily be eroded if assistance in committing suicide were to be decriminalized.” [3] This position has not changed despite significant evidence to the contrary.

Sue Rodriguez[edit]

The most prominent case opposing this law was that of Sue Rodriguez, who after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) requested that the Canadian Supreme Court allow someone to aid her in ending her life. Her request appealed to the principle of autonomy and respect for every person, which states that “everyone has the right to self-determination subject only to an unjust infringement on the equal and competing rights of others.” [6]

Her main argument for her assisted suicide, however, appealed to the principle of equality and justice which states that “everyone should be treated equally, and deviations from equality of treatment are permissible only to achieve equity and justice.” [7] The application of this principle to the case is as follows. Ms. Rodriguez’s ALS would eventually lead her to lose her voluntary motor control. Therefore, this loss of motor control is a “handicap of ALS-sufferers” [7]

Because suicide is not a crime, Ms. Rodriguez was being discriminated against in her option of deciding to commit suicide with the help of another person due to her disability, without the law "providing a compensatory and equitable relief” [8] Though in 1992, the Court refused her request, two years later, Sue Rodriguez, with the help of an unknown doctor ended her life despite the Court’s decision. Due to her death, the Canadian medical profession issued a statement through Dr. Tom Perry and Dr. Peter Graff, who both said that they had assisted some of their patients in speeding up their death.

Robert Latimer[edit]

Robert Latimer is a Canadian canola and wheat farmer, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his daughter Tracy (November 23, 1980 – October 24, 1993). This case sparked a national controversy on the definition and ethics of euthanasia as well as the rights of people with disabilities, and two Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Latimer (1981), on section 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and later R. v. Latimer (2000), on cruel and unusual punishments under section 12 of the Charter.

Canadian Medical Association[edit]

In response to the controversy, the Canadian Medical Association stated that it is not up to them to decide on the issue of euthanasia, but the responsibility of society. Though in 1995, the Canadian Senate Committee decided that euthanasia should remain illegal, they recommended that a new category of crime be specifically created for those charged with assisting in suicide, called “’compassionate suicide.’” [9]

Quebec College of Physicians[edit]

The Quebec College of Physicians has declared that it is prepared to cross the line on the debate over euthanasia and propose that it be included as part of the appropriate care in certain particular circumstances.[10]

Quebec National Assembly[edit]

On June 5, 2014 Quebec became the first Canadian province to pass right-to-die legislation. The federal government is expected to challenge this measure.

Bills C-407 and C-384[edit]

In June 2005, Francine Lalonde introduced in Parliament a private Bill C-407 that would have legalized assisted suicide in Canada, but the January 2006 election ended this bill. Lalonde was re-elected and reintroduced her bill to legalize assisted suicide, which the 2008 election ended.

On May 13, 2009, Lalonde introduced another bill—Bill C-384—of the same nature as her other two attempts. The Bill was debated in the House of Commons, but died on April 21, 2010 in second reading House of Commons when the vote to advance Bill C-384 to the Justice and Human Rights committee failed 59 to 226. Nearly every member of the Bloc Québécois supported the legislation along with one independent and a handful of Liberal, New Democratic Party (NDP) and Conservative MPs. Every other MP either abstained or voted against the bill.[11]

Conservative Minister of Democratic Reform Steven Fletcher, who is Canada's first tetraplegic Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, made a public point of order after the vote to have an abstention recorded for the bill inviting for the discussion.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ (French) Eric Folot, Étude comparative France-Québec sur les décisions de fin de vie : le droit sous le regard de l’éthique, Collection Minerve, Cowansville, Éditions Yvon Blais, 2012 at pp.82-83
  2. ^ Whiting, Raymond (2002), A Natural Right to Die: Twenty-Three Centuries of Debate, Westport, Connecticut 
  3. ^ a b Kluge, Eike-Henner W. (2000), "“Assisted Suicide, Ethics and the Law: The Implication of Autonomy and Respect for Persons, Equality and Justice, and Beneficence.”", in Prado, C.G., Assisted Suicide: Canadian Perspectives, Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press, p. 83 
  4. ^ Darryl, Greer (June 18, 2012). "B.C. Supreme Court Kills Assisted-Suicide Ban". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "OTTAWA, July 13, 2012 - Response of the Attorney General of Canada to the British Columbia Supreme Court Decision on Assisted Suicide". Justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  6. ^ Kluge, Eike-Henner W. (2000), "“Assisted Suicide, Ethics and the Law: The Implication of Autonomy and Respect for Persons, Equality and Justice, and Beneficence.”", in Prado, C.G., Assisted Suicide: Canadian Perspectives, Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press, p. 84 
  7. ^ a b Kluge, Eike-Henner W. (2000), "“Assisted Suicide, Ethics and the Law: The Implication of Autonomy and Respect for Persons, Equality and Justice, and Beneficence.”", in Prado, C.G., Assisted Suicide: Canadian Perspectives, Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press, p. 86 
  8. ^ Kluge, Eike-Henner W. (2000), "“Assisted Suicide, Ethics and the Law: The Implication of Autonomy and Respect for Persons, Equality and Justice, and Beneficence.”", in Prado, C.G., Assisted Suicide: Canadian Perspectives, Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press, p. 87 
  9. ^ Whiting, Raymond (2002), A Natural Right to Die: Twenty-Three Centuries of Debate, Westport, Connecticut, p. 41 
  10. ^ Quebec physicians tentatively propose legal euthanasia
  11. ^ "Vote Details (40-3 Vote No. 34)". .parl.gc.ca. 2010-04-21. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  12. ^ "Official Report * Table of Contents * Number 030 (Official Version)". .parl.gc.ca. Retrieved 2014-02-08.