Tag: disability

The MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) Debate is the Abortion Debate All Over Again

Introduction

2,420 years ago Socrates was in prison awaiting execution. One of his followers begged him to escape, saying “But Socrates, you have been condemned to death.” In refusing to escape, Socrates responded “We are all condemned to death.” That remains true today. No one reading this is immortal.  At some point, for all of us, the question may no longer be “how do you want to live?” but “how do you want to die?”

A Quebec court recently held in the Truchon case (discussed later in this post), that the requirement in Canada’s MAiD law that the person’s “natural death must be reasonably foreseeable” was unconstitutional.  In essence, the court found that this legal provision was an unnecessary limit on the right to this medical assistance for people with intolerable suffering, merely because the time of death was unpredictable.  The federal government did not appeal this judicial decision but accepted its correctness.  It introduced Bill C-7 into Parliament to remove this unconstitutional provision.  Bill C-7 is now in the Senate for review. 

Given the landmark Carter case, which struck down the Criminal Code prohibition against MAiD, Bill C-7 doesn’t fix all of the constitutional problems with the current law.  There is still the constitutional issue to be litigated yet again, of excluding mental illness as the sole underlying medical condition for access to MAID.  But Bill C-7 is an important step in the right direction, and should become the law for that reason.

I acknowledge that Bill C-7 doesn’t deal with the need to improve palliative care in Canada and to provide better resources and services to individuals with disabilities, mental illness and dementia, especially outside large urban areas. But that is a question of resources and spending, not legal drafting; refusing to pass Bill C-7 won’t fix these resource problems, but will prevent an important correction in the law.

The MAiD Debate: Right to Life versus Right to End Life

The only issue before the Senate now is how to comply with the Truchon ruling. Yet Bill C-7 has reignited in the media (but fortunately, not in the Senate) the entire MAiD debate, going far beyond the narrow amendment in the Bill.  In the media the parties to the debate offer two diametrically opposed views of the rights in issue: the right-to-life  (RTL) and the end-of-life rights.  To me, despite the emotional arguments, the resolution is legally easy: Everyone has a right to life, but, as with any other right, everyone has the right to decide when to stop exercising that right.

With Bill C-7 the RTL argument is not about a fetus, which has no choice in the abortion decision. It is about the RTL of adults, who do have a choice.  They can, under Canada’s existing MAiD law, decide whether to die slowly and in pain, until death finally ends their suffering, or die mercifully and quickly at a time of their choice. But the requirement in the current law, that natural death must be reasonably foreseeable, imposes a high legal barrier to eligibility for MAiD.  As the court found, it excludes many people suffering intolerably from accessing MAiD, for no valid reason.

The alternative to assisted dying isn’t living happily ever after, it’s unassisted dying. For some of us unassisted dying will be quick and relatively painless, but unfortunately for you, or me, there may be months or years of prolonged physical and emotional suffering.  MAiD isn’t mandatory.  If you consider it immoral don’t do it. But don’t prohibit others who need it from accessing it.

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