Elderly man pensive 2

(It’s not as if death is optional.)

The RIGHT TO DIE really means: choosing death to solve a problem, doctors and nurses killing patients, assistance in suicide. Expedience, even compassion has never been a justification or defence for murder. Medical decisions must always be based on medical concerns; not social, cost-cutting or arbitrary quality of life reasons.

The RIGHT TO DIE does not refer to the RIGHTS WE HAVE ALWAYS HAD: the patient’s right to refuse treatment, the patient’s right to order treatment to be discontinued, the doctor’s right to abstain from futile or meaningless treatment, the withdrawal of treatment when it no longer serves any therapeutic purpose, giving drugs in doses adequate for pain relief. These have always been recognized under Canadian law as medically appropriate.

On February 6th, 2015 in the Carter v. Canada case, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prohibitions against euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Criminal Code contained in Section 14 and section 241. The Court suspended its decision for one year. The Court ignored its precedent in its 1993 judgment in Rodriguez v. British Columbia which upheld the ban on assisted suicide.

The federal government introduced Bill C-14 which received assent in June 2016. It made the following changes to the Criminal Code:

Section 14 of the Criminal Code read :No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on them, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person who inflicts death on the person who gave consent.

Euthanasia was considered homicide.

Section 14 was replaced by section 227 (1) – Exemption for medical assistance in dying: No medical practitioner or nurse practitioner commits culpable homicide if they provide a person with medical assistance in dying in accordance with section 241.2

Section 241 of the Criminal Code stated: Everyone who counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids or abets a person to commit suicide whether suicide ensues or not is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

It was replaced with Section 241 (1) of the Criminal Code: Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years who, whether suicide ensues or not, (a) counsels a person to die by suicide or abets a person in dying by suicide; or (b) aids a person to die by suicide.

It remains illegal in Canada to counsel or help someone to commit suicide. However, Bill C-14 added Section 241 (2) to the Criminal Code granting an exemption from prosecution for physicians and nurse practitioners who provide a person with medical assistance in dying in accordance with the criteria of the law.  

Section 241 (2) States: No medical practitioner or nurse practitioner commits an offence under paragraph (1)(b) if they provide a person with medical assistance in dying in accordance with section 241.2.

Section 241.2 lists the conditions under which a person may receive assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Medical assistance in dying means euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized in Canada on June 17, 2016 with the passage of Bill C-14.  In assisted suicide, a physician or nurse practitioner provides the patient with the drugs needed to take his or her own life.  The patient self-administers the drugs.  Euthanasia involves a physician or nurse practitioner administering a lethal injection to cause the death of the patient.  Euthanasia and assisted suicide must be requested by the patient. Bill C-14 required that natural death be reasonably foreseeable in order to quality for euthanasia. 

 Bill-C7 was enacted in response to the September 2019 Quebec Superior Court decision in Truchon striking down the criteria that natural death be reasonably foreseeable to be eligible for euthanasia.  The Associated Press reported that “the case was brought by two Quebeckers – Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon -who did not meet the criteria and had their requests for assisted death turned down by doctors.”

Nicole Gladu had post polio syndrome and Jean Truchon lived with cerebral palsy and paralysis. Organizations representing persons with disabilities opposed the Court decision. Amy Hasbrouck of Not Dead Yet told the CBC: “Basically this decision is saying that as far as society is concerned, It’s better to be dead than disabled.”

The federal government chose not to appeal the decision. Instead, its response was Bill-C7 which became law in December 2020.  It expands access to euthanasia by allowing it for reasons of disability and in two years for mental illness.

We need only look at Holland to know that acceptance of assisted suicide and euthanasia leads to euthanasia without consent. The supposed safeguards in place to protect patients from being euthanized without their consent have been found to be ineffective in numerous studies.

Consider this case: On April 22, 2016, Dutch physician Marinou Arends euthanized a patient with dementia in spite of the patient struggling against the lethal injection. The physician made no attempt to obtain the patient’s consent. Dr. Arends had first drugged the patient’s coffee with a sedative which was not permitted but the woman suddenly awoke and fought back. The patient had signed an advance directive in 2012 shortly after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and updated it in 2015 to clarify that she would exercise her right to euthanasia when she thought the time was right.

In a January 2016 consultation with a physician, she had expressed when asked about euthanasia, “Yes, maybe I want it, but not now.” During court testimony, the geriatrician who euthanized the patient gives this account of a March 8th, 2016 consultation : “I ask her if she still wants to go on living. Yes, indeed, she does. She does not want to be dead. She repeats this several times.” The geriatrician also testifies that in a later March interview, the patient replied to her questions as follows: “Then I ask her if she would prefer to be dead: Yes, If I were to be become sick but not yet, okay.”  There were other times according to her medical files where she would say she wished she were dead.  It’s important, however, to highlight that when asked specifically if she wanted euthanasia, the patient always refused.  The patient’s husband and daughter decided it was time to end her suffering. The geriatrician agreed with them. A date for euthanasia was set but it did not unfold as expected. The woman fell asleep after drinking the coffee but woke up as the lethal injection was being administered and resisted. The woman was then held down by her husband and daughter so the geriatrician could finish the injection. The Court found the physician not guilty in a September 2019 decision ruling that in euthanizing patients with dementia, a physician “did not have to verify the current wish to die.” The medical code of practice was also changed to allow physicians to put sedatives in patients’ food or drink prior to euthanasia if the patient was expected to exhibit aggressive or agitated behaviour.

The results of a study conducted in Oregon where assisted suicide is legal found that 90{a886d2509afb02fdbd678c9c9cbef29e9b4ac8f1454580a0bf53ee67e764b753} of individuals asking for help in dying change their minds. Requesting death is often a plea for help and compassion. We can do better than offer death and killing to the suffering.

With scarce health resources, an aging population, quality of life arguments, the right to die may soon become the duty to die. Faye Girsh, executive director of the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society stated in 1997: A judicial determination should be made when it is necessary to hasten the death of an individual whether it be a demented patient, a suffering, severely disabled spouse or child.

She later tried to retract her statement.