Years back, it was illegal in Canada to aid, counsel or abet a suicide. It was an offence that carried a maximum sentence of fourteen years. However, last year In February 2015, Canadas Supreme Court declared that the law deprived off dying individuals their dignity and autonomy. The court had given the federal government 12 months to establish laws that ensured such individual rights of such patients were considered. Moreover, by 18 July 2016, the Canadian Parliament had passed into law a bill allowing medically assisted death for adult patients who are terminally ill. Hence doctors will be allowed to administer end-life medication to those patients that qualify for such services. Canada now join Germany, Switzerland, Colombia, Japan Albania and United States of Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico as states that have legalized assisted suicide. Other countries like Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg allow euthanizing of patients who are only hopeless and in great pain (Ogilvie, 2015). Though the bill has garnered much support from the Canadians, there are critics who are opposed to the law. For instance, the church has raised profound moral, social, theological, legal and philosophical questions. Other people argue that the law is too restrictive thus preventing patients suffering from degenerative conditions like sclerosis from pursuing assisted suicide. Despite certain opposition, I believe that this law has provided a right balance between personal independence between patients seeking medically assisted dying and shielding the vulnerable.
Popular explanations for assisted death include inadequate treatment for depression, pain, hopelessness and socioeconomic stressors like concerns regarding increasing dependency on family members and the economic hardship involved (Hendry, Pasterfield, Lewis, Carter, Hodgson & Wilkinson, 2013). In many of my interviews with patients and their families, I asked them about the history of their illness, reasons for requesting aid dying and any factor that may influence them to seek a physician-assisted death. From my interviews, I identified nine factors, the motivating factors were:
Feeling, tired, weak and uncomfortable 24 (69%)
Loss of function (66%)
Pain arising from medication 14 (40%)
Threats to sense of self
Loss of sense of self (63%)
Desire for control (60%)
Long-standing beliefs favoring instant death (14%)
Fears concerning the future
Fears regarding future less life quality and dying 21 (60%)
Fear of being a burden to other people (9%)."
Despite the existing valid reasons that prompt patients to request for assisted dying, Christian churches and organizations have moved to oppose the new law allowing physicians to assists patients who request to die. In their declaration, these organizations state that due to their beliefs and traditions, they find the act of ending human life is both morally and ethnically wrong. Hence, stakeholders should work towards eradicating human suffering instead of eliminating the suffering patients. Their objection to the law is also founded on their beliefs that human dignity is valuing of individuals life before they naturally die. Therefore, assisted death equals to deliberate killing whether consent is granted by a patient or not. According to the religious bodies, assisted suicide regards the lives of the dying less valuable thus the intention of the law does disregard the equal dignity that patients should be subjected (Ogilvie, 2015). Therefore, they believe instead of assisting patients to die, the government should ensure that such people are given holistic care. That is spiritual, psychological and emotional support compounded with proper pain controls by increasing resources in the health centres, home and palliative care (Hendry, Pasterfield, Lewis, Carter, Hodgson & Wilkinson, 2013). Hence, the objection by the religious leaders is based purely on religious grounds regarding life and human dignity.
Physicians have constantly stated that loss of autonomy, dignity and reduced interest or ability to participate in human activities that make life worth living, are the motivating factor for patients to seek assisted death. Hence, despite the insistence by the religious bodies that such people require human care even when they are in a state of pain and depression, it is important to note that such services are inconsequential when there is complete suffering on the part of the patient. Besides, regardless of our religious affiliation, the decision on when and how we die is the most personal and intimate choice that an individual can make in a lifetime. Such choice centers on the autonomy and personal dignity. For instance, a completely terminally ill adult patient has liberty to choose a dignified and humane death instead of being reduced to living a helpless, diapered and sedated life. Moreover, how a person dies determines both the nature of the patients final period of his life and the enduring memories held by his or her loved ones. Therefore, the principle of patients dignity and autonomy justifies the need and importance of Physician-Assisted Death in Canada.
Most importantly is the fact that assisted suicide has raised a weighty moral, social, legal, philosophical matter that touches the understanding of ourselves, the duty to care for one another and the meaning of life. Therefore, the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada and the passage of a Bill legalizing assisted suicide has not only brought such sensitive matter to the hands of the Canadian public. That is the two events compel the government and Canadians to respond to the dire need for dignity that is yearned by the suffering patients, yet it is a matter that can only be achieved by legalizing assisted suicide (Ogilvie, 2015). Even as critics warn of potential abuse of the principle of autonomy, it is certain that claims of abuse are based on predictive assumptions which that higher death in the country will be as a result of the higher rate of abused assisted suicide in the country. Besides the fact that the law is only legible to patients who are mentally stable and have the ability to make a decisive decision, it is safe to state that doctor-assisted suicide will be subjected to abused by the health professionals.
In many instances, critics opposed to the law have always suggested alternatives to doctor-assisted suicide like palliative care. The objective of a palliative care is neither to hasten death or prolong life but to relieve suffering. However, professionals recognize that programs like palliative care cannot control or halt all kinds of suffering. For instance, in a state like Oregon, nine out of ten patients that seek assisted death, due to their conditions, they have no option but to die. Therefore, some suffering can be ended only by death (Hendry, Pasterfield, Lewis, Carter, Hodgson & Wilkinson, 2013).
Moreover, illegalizing doctor-assisted suicide does not control the activity. For instance, every year, a handful of critically ill Canadians seek medically assisted death from foreign countries like Switzerland. Unfortunately, the costs involved, which range from $ 25,000 to $35,000 are beyond reach for thousands of suffering Canadian patients who require such services. Hence, the previous prohibition of assisted dying did lead to Canadians ending their lives catastrophically due to poor diagnoses. Such tragedies have devastated their families too. Therefore, offering doctor-assisted dying to patients who need it is an act of compassion (Attaran, 2015).
Also, with the legalization of physician-assisted death, end-of-life care will be available for both patients and their families across the Canadian healthcare centres. Besides, by legalizing the choice to die, doctors are forced to learn and explore a range of end-of-life options. For example, after the state of Oregon had legalized doctor-assisted suicide in 1997, its government embarked on empowering doctors and physicians on how to handle patients who seek assisted death. Such step will increase public awareness thus making the process efficient. Moreover, the overwhelming support for such law by the Canadians is an indication that the legislation has always been delayed. By embracing the law, Canadians have ensured that it will not be subjected to abuse (Attaran, 2015).
In conclusion, I support doctor-assisted suicide because it is embedded on the principle of dignity and can protect the vulnerable from abuse. Also, the need for doctor-assisted suicide is inevitable as it is motivated by intertwining factors that compel patients to choose death. Moreover, regardless of available alternatives like palliative care, it is unfortunate that some suffering can only be halted by death. Even as religious leaders question the dignity of the act, it should be noted that by giving a patient a liberty to make a choice regarding his or her life is the greatest act of dignity granted to the patient.
Attaran, A. (2015). Unanimity on death with dignitylegalizing physician-assisted dying in Canada. New England Journal of Medicine, 372(22), 2080-2082.
Hendry, M., Pasterfield, D., Lewis, R., Carter, B., Hodgson, D., & Wilkinson, C. (2013). Why do we want the right to die? A systematic review of the international literature on the views of patients, carers and the public on assisted dying. Palliative medicine, 27(1), 13-26.
Ogilvie, C. (2015). Winning Conditions for Charter Reconsideration: Assisted Suicide and the Supreme Court of Canada (Doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary).
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