“Dying with Dignity” deserves a dignified re-design

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Twenty-two years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman suffering from ALS, could not have a doctor help her commit suicide, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled, February 6, that competent adults with grievous and
irremediable medical conditions can ask a doctor to help them die.
The ban on doctor-assisted

Twenty-two years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sue Rodriguez, a British Columbia woman suffering from ALS, could not have a doctor help her commit suicide, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled, February 6, that competent adults with grievous and
irremediable medical conditions can ask a doctor to help them die.
The ban on doctor-assisted
suicide will be struck down in 12 months; if the government doesn’t amend legislation to respond to the ruling, the court’s exemption for physicians will stand.
The situation has left
politicians facing a tough legal and moral issue they have
avoided in the past. It isn’t an easy issue, especially for the Conservatives; many MPs in Harper’s caucus believe assisted suicide is an affront to the
sanctity of life. (Although the campaign to permit euthanasia is led by a Conservative MP, Stephen Fletcher).
The Harper government is left with two options since it is
unlikely they will bypass the Supreme Court’s ruling; they can respond to the issue now or wait until after the election. Either option is a tough choice: confronting and debating the issue now could expose divisions among their ranks before the election, but waiting could force election candidates to respond to questions they will struggle to answer during the election period.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals want the outlines of a new law
governing doctor-assisted dying drafted by mid-summer, but Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said the government will take its time to thoroughly study the details of the ruling and examine how other jurisdictions, like Quebec, have dealt with the issue.
The government must not dodge the issue; it needs to be confronted in a timely manner so the population, especially
suffering patients, are not left in legal limbo once the year passes. If Parliament misses the deadline, the only guidance for doctors would be the limits set out by the court and the colleges that
regulate doctors. Waiting for the
current law to be voided would leave a wide-open regime,
without appropriate safeguards the country expects; 84%
of Canadians support physician-assisted death with appropriate caveats.
If Harper acts before an
election, some speculate he will respond to the concerns of social conservatives in his base by
placing tight restrictions in the law. This unfortunately could be the case if he tries to satisfy both sides of the coin.
Although conditions are
needed to prevent abuses and to protect the vulnerable, the government mustn’t draft legislation that is overly restrictive to prevent the exemption from being used. Why? Because that’s not what Canadians want; Canadians want, need and deserve clear and
reasonable laws on assisted dying.
Will this be a case where this government tells Canadians what to do instead of listening to what they want? Will they follow their own moral judgement?
Allyson Beauregard, Editor