Almost one year ago, on February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that some Criminal Code sections were unconstitutional regarding a very small group of people who, the Court ruled, are entitled under constitutional law to a physician's help to die. On Monday, the Government of Canada went back to the Supreme Court to request a further six-month delay. The question is: Why?
Much of the debate surrounding Physician Assisted Death (PAD) was between those who believe in personal autonomy and the right to avoid unwanted suffering, and those who believe life is sacred and suffering is redemptive. Those same two groups are now trying to influence the creation of detailed legislation and regulations.
Last week the government announced the membership of the panel that will conduct the public consultation on Physician Assisted Dying. One of the questions they will have to answer are the very real concerns around how to protect vulnerable populations. People are classed as vulnerable when they are in a position of weakness relative to some other group who can wield power over them.
The importance of quality palliative care gets overshadowed by our national debate over euthanasia or medically assisted death. There is a lack of understanding about what palliative care means and how it can help to ensure that we and those we love are able to make that journey to the end of life with dignity.
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.
Sandy, in a recent conversation, shared that it took over six months for the insurance company to approve the purchase of a wheelchair, by which time she could hardly get out of bed, let alone use it. Having that wheelchair earlier might have improved her quality of life. Why does it take so long, especially when someone has limited time?
Most of us have the desire to end our days in the comfort of our own homes, but the reality is that more often than not, we will spend our last days in hospital or in a nursing home on palliative care. With this type of care, the only medical intervention provided is purely for comfort and pain relief. But palliative care doesn't end with the patient; it extends to their family, and the entire process of accepting what will be a peaceful, dignified death.
In Canada, attending a suicide is legal; assisting a suicide is not. Suicide itself is legal in Canada, thus preventing the further injustice of charges against the many unassisted suicides that result in survival in some kind of reduced quality of life. We must legalize assisted suicide in Canada. There are two ways this can happen.
It is a sad truth that a terminally ill person's death is already imminent. The question we therefore have to ask ourselves is whether that imminent death should be replete with pain and suffering in order to maintain a belief-system which relies on thinking doctors and nurses cannot be trusted, or whether that death should be pain-free when the individual is competent to decide that a life of continued suffering robs life of its personal meaning.
It's time to shift away from the messy public spectacles regarding euthanasia. Instead let's follow Quebec's lead -- Canadians everywhere should be able to choose from a full range of end-of-life options, including -- if the prerequisites are met, the option of a medically assisted suicide. There aren't really any scary precedents or slippery slopes here. What there is, is an alternative to an existence of suffering and pain that should, and can be afforded to a terminally ill, palliative treated, mentally competent adult.