Lawmakers in a difficult position with assisted suicide ruling

By Benedict Reiners

Recently, a B.C. judge determined that the laws in the province preventing someone from accessing physician-assisted suicide were unconstitutional. This came in the wake of a lengthy court case, initiated by Gloria Taylor, a woman suffering from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in addition to four other plaintiffs. She has claimed that although she is not yet at the point where she wants to end her life, she wants the freedom to be able to end it when her suffering outweighs the benefits of living. However, even those who support this must realize that with the judge’s mandate come some negative possibilities.

One of the primary problems with the state condoning assisted suicide is the potential for the system to be abused. The system will need to have many checks and balances in order to ensure that there are none who die without the proper consent being given, as well as ever-present observation to make sure that such regulations do not get circumvented or ignored. To do this, law makers must take a close look at other jurisdictions around the world where such legislation has already been passed, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, and at how they deal with the potential abuse of the system, and consider how best to apply those to the Canadian system. This will not be a fast process, and should not be rushed. As such, the courts must recognize that law makers need to take proper precautions to ensure that any legislation that is presented is the best possible for the matter, especially considering the potential cost of errors. The court must be somewhat flexible with their deadline if the need arises, provided that lawmakers do what they can to speedily implement the legislation.

However, the court’s ruling also raises major questions over the ethicality in taking one’s life, counseling someone to take theirs, and the right to make such decisions, as well as what constitutes a sound mind capable of such a decision. To complicate matters further, the hospitals enacting this policy will be state run facilities.

These questions are only more prominent considering the health care system in Canada. If this were the United States, or any other state with a lesser health care system, such legislation would be easier. At worst, it would mean that the state would be forced to allow private companies to carry out the assisted suicides, and not carry them out in their own facilities. However, this is different in Canada. Here, the responsibility for such a procedure may come from the government, on both the federal and provincial levels, with healthcare being under provincial jurisdiction, but with the federal government contributing money towards paying for such expenses. This makes the whole matter far more controversial, given the fact that the government would not be able to simply stand back and allow others to carry out the policy and legislation. State-run hospitals mean that the government must take an active roll not only in determining how it’s done, but also in actually carrying it out.

Lawmakers will have many questions to sort out when they attempt to fulfill Justice Lynn Smith’s ruling. They will need to not only allow it, but also endorse it. But even before that point, they will need to address just how it will be done, and how to prevent abuse. They have a year; expect them to use as much of it as they can.