Not My Problem –
Canada’s Position on Physician Assisted Suicide Euthanasia and why it should be different.
There is substantial debate today about euthanasia. In Canada, euthanasia is illegal in all types and forms. The issue is difficult to resolve and the government has enacted penalties in the Criminal Code to punish assisted suicide. Public opinion polls have shown that a majority of Canadians feel that when death is inevitable and the future holds only lasting suffering, it should be ethically acceptable for physicians to deliberately assist in the deaths of their patients. After the Sue Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) and Latimer cases, the issue of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia gained much more press coverage. In this essay I critically assess whether Canada is right to categorize physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as murder. Those against euthanasia characterize the intention to kill as violating the most basic medical goals, namely, to heal the sick and to prolong human life. They go further to categorize physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as selfish, taking the easy way out, disrespectful of life, and challenging human dignity. On the other hand, pro-euthanasia groups advocate self-dignity, personal choice, economic well-being, happiness, family support, and individual rights. After much reflection and analysis, I believe that characterizing physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as selfish or disrespectful of life is misconstruing the argument; rather then argue about what responsibilities we all have to “life”, there should exist certain restricted venues to allow the freedom and choice to mentally-capable patients to opt for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
In 1972, suicide was decriminalized in Canada, with the understanding that suicide is not a rational act and that these people need help, not incarceration if the suicide attempt was unsuccessful. Since the decision of suicide has been left to the person, then suicide is a decision for that person to make. Looking at it from this perspective, physicians should be empowered to assist patients who choose to exercise such a right. As it stands now, the Criminal Code states that it is illegal to assist someone to commit suicide. The proportion of Canadians who believe that when death is inevitable and the future holds only irremediable suffering, it is ethically acceptable for physicians to deliberately assist in the deaths of their patients is around 75%. Therefore the law appears to be in contrast to the demands of a strong majority of the population. I believe that the person who is dying should have the right to determine the form and time of death. There exists a right to commit suicide, and a physician should be allowed to assist a person who chooses to exercise that right – especially if the patient is disabled and thus unable to do it him or her self. This becomes especially pertinent when we consider Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) – the case involved a woman who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Although the order and rate of Lou Gehrig’s disease varies from person to person, eventually most patients are not able to walk, get out of bed on their own, or use their hands and arms and will eventually die. Rodriguez wished to have assistance in dying when she could no longer live. However, the Criminal Code prohibited people from assisting anyone in committing suicide. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court upheld the provision in the Criminal Code of Canada. The Justices stressed the significant difference between palliative care (pain-preventing care) and physician-assisted suicide, saying Rodriguez failed to show her right to fundamental justice is infringed by the existing criminal law. Although Rodriguez was allowed the right to suicide, she was not allowed assistance with the act. It is argued that allowing these types of freedoms...
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