What has changed about physician-assisted suicide?

On January 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) delivered a decision on physician-assisted suicide…

On January 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) delivered a decision on physician-assisted suicide that had the effect of suspending existing law governing the practice while also giving Parliament 12 months to amend our laws to accommodate or reject the decision.

I have already been contacted by numerous constituents voicing their opinion on physician-assisted suicide. It is clear to me that the ongoing public discussion of this matter cuts to the heart of our deepest-held beliefs and values.

That said, I am reserving my “yea” or “nay” until after I am able to hear from more constituents and stakeholders. I will, however, share some of my thoughts on the SCC decision.

First, I was elected to promote laws providing law and order and good governance to the citizens of Canada. Laws ought to reflect the human rights and freedoms as provided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The role of the courts is to decipher the intent, purpose and application of laws. In this landmark decision, the SCC has seemingly delved into deciding the relevancy of our laws.

The 1993 SCC decision in the Sue Rodriguez case established the sanctity of life as an underlying and animated “Charter value “meaning that human life is considered to have a deep intrinsic value of its own. This definition is essential to understanding the Charter, particularly the Section 7 rights to “life, liberty and security of the person.” As the 1993 SCC decision noted, Charter rights apply to all “members of a society based upon respect for the intrinsic value of human life and inherent dignity of every human being.”

Flip ahead to 2015. Now the courts have said that Legislation withholding right to doctor-assisted suicide is “cruel” which begs the question of “what about the sanctity of life?”

The court has given Parliament 12 months to answer questions such as these. Unless the government wields the Notwithstanding Clause, existing laws will be void, opening the door for physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) “clearly consents to the termination of life”; and (2) “has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

This statement lacks certainty of both direction and finish. It encompasses: assisted suicide and euthanasia; terminal illness and psychological suffering; the able-bodied and the disabled – all contending with their own, or a physician’s, interpretation of “enduring suffering that is intolerable.”

Just so you know, between 1991 and 2012, nine private member’s bills were introduced in the House of Commons seeking to amend the Criminal Code to decriminalize assisted suicide or euthanasia. Six of these bills were voted on and all failed to pass.

So what has changed? The Court seems to think things have changed and that Canadians no longer want to protect the “sanctity of life.” Now, it is Parliament’s responsibility to determine if that is true or not.

-Colin Mayes is the Member of Parliament for the Okanagan- Shuswap riding.