Our classes often look at cases and circumstances where a decision must be made about what happens to people's bodies, and indeed, to their lives. Do students who do not yet have the right to vote care about such issues? My experience is that they care deeply and passionately. They are profoundly interested in fairness and justice -- and they are waiting for us to listen.
Last week's Supreme Court decision has put the issue of assisted suicide square onto the government agenda. However, it would be a real loss for Canadians if Parliament does not look at the much broader issue of how we care for Canadians suffering from incurable illnesses. Over the last year I have had the fortune to meet with front line providers of palliative care across Canada. The question that needs to be asked is how can the Federal government respond to the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling unless it also deals with this patchwork of end of life services in this country?
If the law is changed, physicians must be given a choice as to whether or not they will practice assisted suicide. In all likelihood there will be a limited number of physicians who actually offer the service, and, just as doctors who prescribe methadone are specifically registered to do so through their governing bodies, likely similar regulations will be imposed on physicians who do elect to practice assisted suicide. For that reason, in the event physician-assisted-suicide becomes legal, there needs to be a corresponding immunity protecting doctors who have acted in good faith and that prevents family members from suing them.