QLSpeaks: Carter v Canada
This is the second edition of QLSpeaks. QLSpeaks is a space for members of the Queen’s Law community to share their views on important issues in 100 words or less.
Contributors to this edition were asked to answer the following question: What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision on physician-assisted suicide in Carter v Canada?
Patient autonomy is quickly emerging as the fundamental principle underlying Health Law. All aspects of the doctor-patient relationship should reflect this.
Yes, by decriminalizing physician-assisted suicide we are asking doctors to make extremely difficult ethical choices, but this is the nature of medicine. The ability to keep people alive despite debilitating disease comes at a cost. With the advent of life-sustaining medical technologies, the promise to do no harm by keeping patients alive is sometimes overzealous and counterproductive. When living isn’t in the patient’s best interest, the right to die should be available even if it creates discomfort for a doctor, or forces him or her to acknowledge the limits of medicine.
– Sarah Spitz, 1L
I understand the appeal of assisted suicide (AS), however we have to consider how such laws have affected other countries.
Euthanasia has grown from an issue of the terminally ill to a consideration of all ages (including children) facing mental or physical pain. Given the vagueness of guidelines, some choose to die simply due to things such as insufficient retirement funds.
Psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot, who helped pioneer AS in the Netherlands, considers the legislation to “have gone off the rails.” In some cases, death certificates are falsified to avoid euthanasia paperwork. AS can also be used in lieu of psychiatric treatment and doctors have been shown to be quite inaccurate in predicting lifespans.
The terminally ill are quickly becoming a minority of the euthanizations in Europe. I worry we are on the same slippery slope.
– Derek Sloan, 1L
The Carter v Canada decision represents the kind of progressive change in the law we as Canadians deserve. I’m proud of the decision, and proud that the Court unanimously recognized the dignity and personal autonomy of people suffering from intolerable medical conditions.
I lament the fact that none of our country’s main political parties have been so bold as to propose legislating physician-assisted dying, but I am pleased that the Court is forcing us to have a long overdue national discussion on end-of-life care and human rights.
We are finally picking up where Sue Rodriguez left off 21 years ago.
– Jess Spindler, 2L
I believe that human life is an incredibly precious thing and that it is awful when it is extinguished. That being said, I believe that there are cases when it is better to allow someone to die than to force them to go on living. In some cases, people have seriously incurable diseases, which leave them in situations where it would be kinder to let them die than to keep them alive. I know that I would rather die than spend 30 years as a vegetable or with Locked-in Syndrome.
– James Splane, 1L
The reasons in Carter were, at times, difficult to read. The testimony concerning the unimaginable choice between a premature and potentially violent death and an excruciatingly slow “piece by piece” death is gut-wrenching. Fortunately, there is now a more peaceful and dignified option on the table.
The Court’s decision focused on ensuring safeguards to protect vulnerable people from abuse. Legislators will also have to consider the difficult decision that many Canadian physicians now face. Any scheme to regulate this area should include resources to help those doctors who choose to participate in assisted dying.
– Cameron Love, 1L
There are several arguments for a right to physician-assisted suicide including compassionate grounds and personal autonomy. However, acceptance of the personal autonomy argument raises the question of why assisted suicide should be limited to those with serious and irremediable conditions.
If we accept that the individual has self-ownership, it follows that he or she should be the final arbiter of his or her earthly disposition. We tacitly accept this by not prohibiting suicide.
Accepting that certain individuals can consent to the infliction of death upon themselves, how can we consistently preclude others from doing the same?
– Michael Scott, 2L
QLSpeaks is a space for members of the Queen’s Law community to share their views on important issues in 100 words or less.