Illustration by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday, October 17, 2014
Parliamentary delinquency on assisted suicide
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in a Charter challenge to our ban on assisted suicide. Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, the women afflicted with degenerative diseases at the case’s origin, have ended their suffering. Some groups press on in their names, while others defend the law. Whatever the outcome, the case testifies that the House of Commons has ceased to be the place where Canadians debate what matters most to them.
This wasn’t the Supreme Court’s first time considering the right to end one’s life or to receive help in doing so. In 1993, a bare majority of five judges rejected Sue Rodriguez’s claim and upheld the ban on assisted suicide. The only judge from that time still serving is Beverley McLachlin. Then a young judge, she was one of the dissenters.
Court watchers expect Chief Justice McLachlin to rally a majority around her view of autonomy and reverse the earlier decision. The case law under the Charter has evolved. Public opinion around assisted suicide has shifted. Legislative innovation in other jurisdictions offers examples of loosening the ban while establishing safeguards to protect the vulnerable.
Determining policy on assisted suicide involves our fundamental commitments to the autonomy of the individual and the sanctity of life and entails interpreting those commitments in a secular, multicultural society. It calls for weighing the right to assistance ending one’s life against the risk of abusing that right and exploiting the vulnerable. In our federation, it requires distinguishing the Parliament of Canada’s exclusive power to define the criminal law from the provinces’ power to regulate health. (Continued: Globe & Mail)