The Supreme Court of Canada has thrown out the Criminal Code provisions which deal with assisting people to commit suicide. It is a stark reversal of the court’s decision, by a 5-4 margin in 1994, to uphold that aspect of Canadian law.
The court has given the federal government one year to come up with new laws.
This timetable is clearly far too ambitious. A federal election is planned for October, and if there ever was an issue that requires careful study and much consultation in advance of a law being proposed, this is it. Try doing that in an election year.
The judges seem almost ignorant of practical problems caused by their timetable, even as it seems obvious they have been influenced by a shift in public opinion. Most surveys suggest that about 80 per cent of Canadians are in favour of some form of assisted dying or euthanasia for people suffering from terminal illness, although just what they actually favour varies widely.
Are they in favour of the Dutch approach, where teens and people suffering from depression can be put to death by physicians? Or do they favour the far more measured approach adopted in the state of Oregon, where the patient must request drugs, both verbally and in writing, which can end their lives.
As people’s lives have been lengthened due to medical advances in areas like heart surgery, cancer treatment and organ transplants, many live long enough so that end-of -life issues are even more challenging than they have been.
The issue requires careful study and more time.