The Right to Life

November 19, 2018

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Euthanasia or doctor assisted suicide has been a controversial act for many years. It is questioned whether it denies citizens their right to life, liberty, and security under section 7 of the Charter and equality rights under section 15. Carter (2015) is the most recent landmark case that has made euthanasia legal in Canada.

 

Carter Case

Carter 2015 impacted the precedent on the right to life and death by challenging ss. 14, 21, 22, 222 and 241(b) of the Criminal Code (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para.11). The sections of the Charter of rights and freedoms that were in question were ss. 1, 7 and 15 (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 5). S. 14 states one cannot consent to death and s. 241(b) states that it is illegal to assist a person in suicide (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 20). Judges are not bound to follow stare decisis (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 44). In Rodriguez 1993, it was found that there were no violations in the Criminal Code that impacted the Charter (Rodriguez, 1993, para. 10). As times change, the Criminal Code needs to reflect what society agrees upon. This case involved multiple people representing many citizens across Canada who suffer from painful incurable diseases.

 

What does it mean for Policy?

Any person who is considered to be an adult in Canada with the cognitive mental capacity to make decisions for themselves and suffering from an intolerable condition is able to request euthanasia (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 147). As the policy provisions slowly are changed it is likely we will see, ‘except in the case of physician assisted suicide’ added to section 14 and section 241(b) of the Criminal Code. The Canadian Medical Association will also have to make provisions to protect doctors involved in euthanasia (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 131). This is because a family member could start a lawsuit claiming their loved one was murdered by the doctor. Not everyone will be in agreeance with the patient’s choice and some people may take their emotions out on the doctor. Doctors who decide not to partake in euthanasia for religious reasons or other beliefs should be protected as well (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 131). A patient could claim that the doctor was not providing the standard of care that the patient had requested. Nurses policies and anyone else providing care to the patient will also have to have policies in place to protect them in case of a lawsuit or malpractice. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms for patients will also need changes (Carter v. Canada, 2015, para. 132). All the doctors who choose to participate in euthanasia should have to get certification in a course that teaches a unified procedure across Canada.

 

Hospitals or care facilities where euthanasia is to take place should also change their policies in case someone files a lawsuit. The hospital should provide a response to patient of whether they will assist in their suicide within a designated period instead of making the patient wait in pain. Programs should be implemented for the patient and their family to help them cope with the patient’s decision to die and to help the family cope after the death of their loved one.

 

What should other Countries such as the UK take into consideration if Euthanasia were to be legalized?

A question that will come about is whether or not people can opt early in life for euthanasia if they are currently not affected by a disease. For Alzheimer's and dementia, a person is not in a cognitive mind set to choose euthanasia. A person’s next of kin cannot choose to end their life for them. So does this mean, if a person goes to a lawyer early in life to create a will they can request euthanasia in the case of Alzheimer's? What diseases constitute as intolerable under euthanasia? Does the patient get to decide they are enduring an intolerable disease (everyone’s tolerance levels are different) or does the physician decide? Alzheimer's may not be painful but it degrades the mind overtime so one forgets memories. It can be a frustrating way to live.

 

Another question that will come from euthanasia provisions is, what about people who cannot speak but are clearly in pain? An example would be the Latimer 2001 case where Robert Latimer ended his daughter’s life (R v. Latimer, 2001). Tracy Latimer had many surgeries and was clearly in pain but she could not speak nor was she an adult to make informed choices (R v. Latimer, 2001). Robert spent time in jail for an act of love (he could not bare to see his daughter suffer) (R v. Latimer, 2001). If we proceed with only allowing people who are considered an adult to request euthanasia, how does an adult in Tracy’s situation choose to end their life?

 

Conclusion

In Carter 2015 it was found that we can still value lives but allow people to choose how to end their lives. By allowing doctor assisted suicide it is showing that we believe people should not suffer even near death. We are still valuing human lives but not at the cost of another’s suffering. If there is nothing that can be done besides wait for death, then why prolong the inevitable if they cannot live out those days comfortably? Countries that are aiming to legalize euthanasia should look at the policies of countries that have it legalized already to take into account what 'works and does not work' as a way of preventing certain future court cases that could have been foreseen.

 

References

 

Carter v Canada (AG), 2015 SCC 5

 

R. v. Latimer, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 3, 2001 SCC 1

 

Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [1993] S.C.C.A. No. 108 (LexisNexis)

 

If you have a post on an interesting or recent case, you would like to share please email it to Brooke.McNeil@city.ac.uk. If you write for the blog 5 times you will be awarded with a certificate for your CV.

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