The wrong decision on assisted suicide

NationalPost.com – FullComment
Jun 18, 2012.    Will Johnston, National Post

On June 15, the British Columbia Supreme Court rendered a controversial judgment in the case of Carter vs. Canada, one that purports to create constitutional immunity for those who provide assistance to those seeking to kill themselves — a judgment that stands at odds with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Rodriguez ruling in 1993. The only saving grace is that doctors will not be scribbling lethal prescriptions any day soon: Current law will stand for at least a year (the sole exception being the plaintiff in this case, 64-year-old ALS patient Gloria Taylor). Let us hope that a higher court restores sanity to the issue before this 12-month period expires.

Justice Lynn Smith determined that the ban against assisted suicide serves to discriminate against the disabled — and therefore runs afoul of the equality provisions in section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — because it prevents disabled people from getting the help they may need to kill themselves. But the Charter is meant to defend us against violations perpetrated by the state, not abet self-inflicted injuries or death.

Fighting suicide is a national policy. Suicide is strongly discouraged by all manner of health professionals, and some suicidal people are, by law, forcibly hospitalized for assessment and treatment. Yet, in the Carter decision, much is made of the idea that, since suicide is not actually illegal, it is unfair that the disabled who are unable to kill themselves are deprived of the help they need in doing so. Having measles is not against the law either, but most would call it an odd leap of logic to suggest that catching measles should be a constitutional right and that people too disabled to get themselves off to a measles epidemic must be given physician-assisted infection.

In Carter, the judge adopts what my experience tells me is a delusion: That a bright enough line can be drawn between those with identifiable physical ailments who want to die — candidates for “acceptable” assisted suicide — and those who are just depressed or psychotic.

Many of those who reject capital punishment on the chance that one innocent person might be executed have noticed that even the intense scrutiny of a murder trial can fail to get the facts right. Yet when it comes to assisted suicide and euthanasia, the Carter judgment claims that the risks associated with killing someone in an “unacceptable” state of depression or psychosis can be adequately managed.

The reality is that, in liberal foreign jurisdictions admired as models in the Carter decision, literally thousands of assisted suicides happen without the documented consent of those killed. Rules are ignored or become empty rituals. The Carter judgment appears to either misinterpret these deaths, or wave them off as acceptable collateral damage in the pursuit of personal choice and autonomy.

Most Canadians are easily confused by the distinction between refusing or withdrawing medical therapy, and intentional killing of the patient; and Carter contributes to this confusion. For instance, in one paragraph, a false parallel is drawn between a criminal failure to act, which leads to harm, and the doctor’s act of stepping aside when therapy is futile or refused. Common sense tells us that the disease kills the patient, not the doctor who was trying to help, and who is forbidden by law from imposing help when it is not wanted.

Overall, the Carter judgment provides 395 pages of reasons to justify a reckless social experiment that would be difficult to reverse, while dismissing the warnings that all is not well in the places that already have implemented such policies. Based on my 31 years of front-line medical experience, I urge Canadians to be very skeptical about going down this road.

National Post

Will Johnston is a Vancouver G.P., and chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C., an intervenor in the Carter case.

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1 Comment

  1. Belinda Bartlett

    This particular article has some negative views being given to the readers, and once you read that the author is involved in the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of BC this strong negative opinion and bias is understandable. However, I have to question why the author has taken this anti approach to assisted suicide/euthanasia; is it from personal experience or religious beliefs? What factors have given this matter of opinion? Another indicator I noticed from the title of the article that this would be an article of opposition to legalizing euthanasia, the wording chosen “assisted suicide” represents a negative viewpoint, whereas the use of the word “euthanasia” is a more neutral, unbiased term to use.
    There is no arguing that the topic of euthanasia is a highly controversial one, much like the abortion issue continues to be today. These types of health matters are ones that hold much personal values in combination with religious and political factors. As long as we have diversity in our values and priorities, I believe personally that we will always have differing opinions on such ethical matters.
    However, I do agree with this author that caution must be taken in any implementation of policy in regards to euthanasia. Canada has an advantage in regards to this area since there are other countries that have established and organized procedures to follow that allow for legalized euthanasia ( the Netherlands for example). Having another country model their method can ease the decision process that I believe Canada needs to proceed with on this concerning area for Canadians.
    Being put in a circumstance of a loved one suffering is the only real way to know all the emotions and decisions that result from this experience, and due to our diverse values each individual will have their own opinions, coping skills, and decisions regarding the circumstance. Putting forth judgement on right from wrong on this topic is simply a matter of opinion, one which I would never subject on another.

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