Doctor assisted suicide should be a right

by | Feb 27, 2015 | Opinion

Edward Bayley

Sports Editor/Managing Editor


The unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling that allows doctor-assisted suicide as a medical option, under certain circumstances, has raised a lot of concern over how this will affect the way we treat certain medical cases in Canada – and rightfully so. It’s easy to start running through hypothetical situations and to find issues that could, and likely will, arise.

Yet the Supreme Court has made the right decision. Despite all the worry surrounding the ruling, the minority of cases where the option can save those suffering and their families from unnecessary pain and stress should outweigh the concerns.

My grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the summer in 2014. It wasn’t long after that specialists ruled out chemo as an option because he was too weak to undergo the treatment. He wasn’t in unbearable pain, but in order to keep what pain he did have at bay he was on a lot of medication, which often caused him to be far from present. It was pretty easy to recognize, even if you hadn’t interacted with him before, that his medication was having a serious affect on his ability to think clearly or hold a conversation.

The last conversation I had with him was about doctor-assisted suicide. While sitting at his bedside I listened as he told me about the episodes of Border Security he had been watching and then the last thing he ever said to me was along the lines of “I’ve been thinking a lot about doctor-assisted suicide and I really think it would be good. I think they should do that.”

It’s incredibly hard to hear someone you love say they are ready to let go, but I think it made his eventual passing a lot easier for me because for the majority of his final months he was no longer really living. He was never the kind of guy who talked about what he had been watching on TV, he was a man of action. My usual conversations with him were about the new person he had met at the coffee shop, the latest little adventure he had been on or some silly business plan he had concocted. Whether it was because of pain or the affect of his medication he spent a lot of time in bed, he had very little appetite if any at all, and he couldn’t do the things he loved any more.

Part of the statement from the Supreme Court cited Canada’s recognition of the “sanctity of life” that should include the “passage into death.” There comes a point when those dealing with terminal illness are no longer able to truly live. Life can become solely about managing your disease and why should anyone else be able to tell that person they can’t go peacefully or must continue to suffer.

There are very specific criteria that the Supreme Court set as a requirement before doctor-assisted suicide becomes an option. The individual in question must be “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and 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.”

That’s the correct approach to take. Even though the option of doctor-assisted suicide should be available to those in especially bad situations, nobody is advocating suicide as an option. Doctors are expected to provide patients with all other medical choices available. We won’t know the exact limitations until the federal government debates the issue and comes up with legislation, but it should be strict. From there, like any new law, individual cases can be taken through the court systems to determine exactly where the boundaries should be.

Unfortunately this could mean that some might not have access to the option as Canada figures out where it stands on a very complicated issue, but the initial court ruling is a huge step forward down the right path.