Saturday, February 07, 2015

Take a Breath and Use the Not Withstanding Clause

The Supreme Court Ruling striking down Canada's laws against assisted suicide is an extreme example of judicial overreach. Major social change like this should always come from elected representatives.

The ruling includes a demand that Canada pass a new law within 1 year. This is an unreasonable timeline given the major social implications on our society and the consultation that's required for good law making. In this case the not withstanding clause of the constitution is absolutely the right tool to use in order to provide a 5 year window to allow reasoned and democratic debate that would allow for good law making.

This is a terrible ruling. There are no real safeguards presented, in fact, the phrase "enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual" is so terribly vague it could include anything from arthritis to depression to indigestion. Even if the safeguards were valid they will have no standing the first time someone challenges them saying they have another compelling reason to take their life such as poverty or a desire not to be a burden to their children.

The 9 - 0 ruling completely shatters my faith in our Supreme court justices. The Supreme Court previously ruled that the laws were constitutional in 1993. Surely there were aspects of the previous ruling that could have at least shown up in a dissenting opinion. It makes a mockery of our justice system that a ruling with such a profound impact on our society would overturn our laws and a previous supreme court ruling without a vigorous debate among the justices.

There are many valid reasons to oppose assisted suicide beginning with basic principles like, "killing is wrong," "every life is valuable," and "we have an obligation to protect the vulnerable." The giant legal vacuum that is being created will leave no protection in place for vulnerable people who may feel forced into suicide or for doctors who cannot in good conscience take an active part in killing their patients.

There is no conscience legislation to protect the right of doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to refuse to prescribe lethal drugs. In fact, the college of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is currently seeking to take away doctor's rights to refuse to provide treatments they find immoral stating, the "physician's responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, [so] there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical services they require."

I understand that it is even harder to watch someone suffer than to suffer yourself, and that many of the people in favour of this ruling are motivated by compassion. But the facts remain that aggressive pain medication and proper care for the dying can alleviate a great deal of the suffering that exists.

There's no doubt that this ruling will tear families apart and will sow deep divisions within our country. It's time to use the not withstanding clause of the constitution to allow for related laws protecting patient and doctors' rights to be developed and for a fair and respectful national conversation to begin.

Just for fun here's a not very exhaustive list of conditions that may cause enduring suffering that is intolerable:

Kidney Disease,
Opiate addiction,
Respiratory Illness,
Yellow Fever,