Assisted Suicide It is upsetting and depressing living life in the shadow of death. Many questions appear on this debatable topic, such as should we legalize euthanasia? What is euthanasia? What is assisted suicide? What is the difference between Passive and Active Euthanasia? What is Voluntary, Non-voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia? What is Mercy Killing? What is Death with dignity? But if euthanasia was legalized, wouldn’t patients then die peacefully rather than using plastic bags or other methods? And unfortunately the list continues. No one denies that there are many vulnerable persons who require the protection of the law. Take, for example, those in a temporary state of clinical depression, perhaps caused by a traumatic event in their lives. These persons will recover and go on to lead productive, happy lives, and it would be unconscionable to encourage or support them in a transitory wish to die.
There are also many unemployed and unemployable, many disabled of all ages, and many senior citizens whose families might, for selfish or downright malicious reasons, encourage them to seek assisted suicide. All kinds of people in difficult situations could be at risk of being intimidated or forced into feeling their early death would be a convenience to society. Section 241 is doubly flawed. It is not an especially effective drawback against those who seek to prey on the vulnerable, but at the same time it forces persons enduring intolerable suffering to exist in that state against their own wishes, thus denying them their right of self-determination as citizens in a free democracy. Competent, rational human beings must have the right to determine their own health care according to their personal wishes, values and beliefs, as long as such a determination does not jeopardize the safety or well-being of any other person.
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We do not believe, for instance, that people have the right to kill themselves by driving recklessly and in so doing jeopardize the safety of others. To kill oneself by causing an explosion that will inevitably put others at risk is horror. It is also reproachable to end one’s own life without regard to the trauma it might inflict on the vulnerable. People shall never forget the horror suffered by two young children who arrived home after school to find their mother hanging from the hall chandelier, or by a teen-age boy who found his father with his head blown apart from a self-inflicted shotgun wound in the kitchen of their home. We also need to consider the anguish of family members, friends and even health-care professionals who must continue to witness, day after day, the suffering of people they love and wish to help.
If a remedy for such suffering does not exist within the law, people will have recourse to the unwritten law of simple justice. Proponents of euthanasia argue that mercy-killing is necessary because patients particularly those with terminal illness, experience uncontrollable pain. They argue that the only way to alleviate the pain is to eliminate the patient. But is there a better way? In the last few years a number of court cases have shown the quandary the legal system is in about this issue. In a recent presentation to the Supreme Court, Dying With Dignity outlined some of these problems.
Developments in the medical sciences and in the protection of human dignity have created expectations in Canadians that they will be able to exercise greater control over fundamental issues respecting personal autonomy and human dignity, bodily integrity and issues of life and death… The advances in medical science, and in particular the capacity of medical science to intervene in the natural cycle of life and death, have led also to a re-examination of many fundamental issues, including the protection Canadian society should accord to the values of sanctity of life. Of particular importance.. is the circumstances under which a person may determine the manner and time of his or her own death. The Case of Sue Rodriguez Canada’s most important (to date) dramatic and high-profile court case with respect to the issue of physician-assisted suicide took place in 1992-93. Sue Rodriguez, a young woman aged forty when she was first diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is an intelligent, aware person.
She had done her research and knew full well the death that was in store for her. Mrs. Rodriguez, mother of a small child, knew that the disease would gradually rob her of the ability to walk, move her body at will, eat and finally breathe without mechanical assistance. Her mind would remain alert, however, trapped in the shell of her body. Sue Rodriguez did not find dignity in such a life and wished instead to circumvent such an end by requesting physician-assisted suicide at a time and in a manner of her own choosing.
She determined that she would like to activate a machine that would facilitate her death, but would also like to have a physician present, in case, through some unpredictable eventuality, something went awry and she needed further aid in dying. Christopher M. Considine, lawyer for Mrs. Rodriguez, took her case to a lower court, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which denied her request, and then to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In the judgment on appeal from the Court of Appeal, the decision was lost by a vote of two to one.
Justice McEachern in his dissenting opinion, based mostly on arguments relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms presented by Mrs. Rodriguez’s counsel, outlined a set of guidelines by which he felt Mrs. Rodriguez could be granted her wish. The matter then proceeded with unusual speed to the Supreme Court of Canada. On May 20, 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Appeal of Sue Rodriguez v.
Attorney General of British Columbia and Attorney General of Canada. This is just one case of thousands upon thousands of people who seek help and the only way which they know how to help themselves is by elimination. In closing, we must emphasize that the issue is now out in the open. As the proliferation of media items attests, it will not disappear from the Canadian scene just because it makes some people uncomfortable. Simple humanity demands a resolution to this debate, either in the courts or in legislation.