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Canada is a showcase for the slippery slope of assisted suicide

James Mildred

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Canada has yet again demonstrated how so-called 'safeguards' around assisted suicide laws are incrementally eroded.

After the Supreme Court of Canada declared in 2015 that the Canadian Charter entails a positive right to assisted suicide, it has been legal in Canada for any person with a recognised medical condition that causes 'irremediable suffering'.

However, until now, there has been one key condition facilitating access to this right, and that is the requirement that death has to be 'reasonably foreseeable' i.e. that the patient has a terminal illness. This safeguard was added by the Canadian Parliament when they formally legalised 'Medical Aid in Dying' (MAID) in 2016, following the court's ruling.

Safeguards removed

However, in September 2019 the Quebec Court held that the legal requirement that a patient had to be near death was unconstitutional.

This means that one of the key safeguards around assisted suicide legislation—that the patient must be at the end of their life—must now be removed by the Canadian Parliament.

The Canadian Parliament is currently conducting a consultation and considering whether they could expand the practice of euthanasia to include psychological conditions, such as depression. The court has imposed a deadline of 11th March for the Government to change the law.

Other kinds of suffering

Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coaltion explained what the changes will mean:

"By removing the terminal illness requirement, that means you can have euthanasia for physical or psychological suffering,"

"I do believe this situation is going to be opening up the gates to far more deaths by euthanasia. At the same time, our euthanasia numbers have just been skyrocketing. So as much as we have seen this huge increase in euthanasia, they're only going to be opening the doors more."

Hospices being forced to offer assisted suicide

At the same time as the law is expanding, the Canadian Government have also threatened to withdraw funding from a Quebec hospice because it refuses to provide euthanasia—a practice that the hospice argues is totally opposed to the moral philosophy of hospice care.

Irene Thomas Hospice, which is completely secular, has said that if the funding is withdrawn it will have to remove some of its other vital programmes, such as helping bereaved families.

The facility commented, "Our healthcare discipline has been practiced in Canada for 40 years and has excelled in providing pain and symptom management to people. A patient can be stabilized to make his life as good as possible. We have seen that people who offer Hospice Palliative Care tend not to want euthanasia."

Not the first time

Opening up assisted suicide to include 'existential suffering' has been a notable development in other jurisdictions that have legalised the practice, such as the Netherlands and Belgium.

In England and Wales, campaigners are calling for a change to the law which will legalise assisted suicide in certain circumstances.

Similarly to other states, the campaigners propose that any change to the law will include safeguards such as the requirement that the patient has a terminal illness with six months left to live. They claim that these safeguards will distinguish the law here from places such as the Netherlands.

However, other jurisdictions have proven that these safeguards do not work, and incremental expansion of the law is inevitable. MPs claim that they will seek a much tighter version of the law, similar to the one operating in Oregon. However, Oregon has also shown signs of expansion: assisted suicide in practice now encompasses an increasing number of medical conditions, and safeguards, such as the 15-day reflection period, have recently been removed.

This is why CARE is vehemently opposed to any change in the law—the current law is the best safeguard we have.

Read more

In this article for The Economist, CARE's James Mildred argues that the slippery slope of assisted suicide is all too real

In The Times (Scotland), James Mildred says the right to die will quickly become a duty to die

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Assisted Suicide

Where assisted suicide is legal, it makes vulnerable people feel like a burden. CARE works to uphold laws that protect those people, and to assist them to live—not to commit suicide.

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