Binkley Report on euthanasia

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...
The Binkley Report

Kudos to BC judge on euthanasia ruling

A slow painful end of life denies the right to life, liberty and security of person

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

The ruling by Justice Lynn Smith of the B.C. Supreme Court striking down portions of the federal anti-euthanasia law should put the issue before Parliament, which is exactly where it should be.

However, don’t expect the Harper government to let our elected representatives ever really consider the issue. It will appeal Smith’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, and if that fails, will most likely ram through a provision to prevent it from coming into effect.

While that will appease the usual complainers, it ducks actually dealing with the reality of Smith’s decision. By the way, she suspended the effect of her ruling for year except in the case of a B.C. woman who is suffering from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Smith said the delay would give Parliament time to make the law match the dictates of the Constitution. So much for those who whine about judges writing the law.

Gloria Taylor wants the right to have a doctor assist her to end her life rather than go through the awful suffering associated with the final stages of the disease. Many others facing a debilitating condition encounter the same challenge.

In a 395-page decision, which fired up passionate comments from both sides of the debate, Smith said the laws banning doctor-assisted suicide were discriminatory, disproportionate and overbroad.

Twenty years ago, Sue Rodriquez, another B.C. woman suffering from ALS, appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to be allowed to choose when she could her life, but lost in a 5 to 4 decision. She committed suicide in 1994. Her argument boiled down to why should people with terminal disease not be allowed to end their lives rather than suffer for months or years in a state that is not living.

Like Rodriquez, Taylor wants the right to die with dignity. Smith said, “She will be permitted to seek — and her physician will be permitted to proceed with — physician-assisted death under specified conditions.”

Smith ruled the federal law unjustifiably infringes on Taylor's rights to life, liberty and security of persons. It discriminates against people who are grievously ill or physically disabled and want to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives. The law doesn’t prohibit suicide, but those who are physically disabled can't commit suicide without help, she added. Assisting in a suicide is an offense.

“The impact of the distinction is felt particularly acutely by persons such as Ms. Taylor, who are grievously and irremediably ill, physically disabled or soon to become so, mentally competent and who wish to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives.”

She said the legislation has very severe adverse effects on Taylor and others like her and they outweigh by the benefits of the laws against assisted suicide.

Risks associated with doctor-assisted suicide “can be identified and very substantially minimized through a carefully-designed system imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced.” This of course is just what a Parliamentary committee could and should do.

The opposition to assisted suicide boils down to some version of allowing it for case like Taylor’s or Rodriquez’s is the start of a slippery slope to where all sorts of ill and infirm people are put down by the state. Or countries that allow this practice have lost control of the practice.

Like MPs wouldn’t consider shortcomings in other countries or the controls required to ensure the law protects people.

Readers will hear lots of rhetoric about this case in the coming months. But put yourself in Taylor or Rodriquez’s position. Do you really want to be kept alive, full of painkillers, when you can hardly breath or the pain is almost unbearable and you are unable to do any activities that you enjoy? 

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