New rules need to be narrowed

Brent StaffordtheQ Leave a Comment

theQuestion: Are the doctor-assisted suicide recommendations in the new parliamentary report too lax?*

To maintain the bonds that bind civil society, government and courts set boundaries constraining an individual’s right to exercise personal autonomy. The actions society prohibits are as equally determinative as what it allows. In a functioning culture, personal autonomy is merely an ideal.

If a person is terminally ill, they should have the right to exercise personal autonomy to end their own life. This right should also apply to those who have incurable degenerative illnesses.

The federal government must enact legislation guaranteeing one’s right to have a doctor assist. Both options should be made legal. One for where the doctor provides the patient a prescription for the lethal drugs. The other, for where the doctor administers the lethal dose — if the patient is unable to do it for themselves.

Physician-assisted suicide is humane and just. But only in a narrow range of cases. The joint parliamentary committee’s 21 recommendations on access to medically assisted dying goes way too far in allowing for those with mental illness or psychiatric conditions to also qualify — including “mature minors” found competent to consent.

Where does this lead? We know drug addiction is a disease, not a character defect. We have also been told that addicts suffer from serious mental illness — depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, to name a few. Many advocates have argued the dependency on drugs like heroin — for some — is irremediable, hence the focus of harm reduction over abstinence. Would doctor-assisted suicide not be considered the ultimate end-course of a fully traversed harm reduction strategy?

I’m curious what the civil liberties advocates would say a couple of years down the road when a pair of well-meaning doctors begin to assist in the legal suicide of drug addicts living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Certainly many living in the DTES could argue they meet the parliamentary committee’s standard of living with a non-terminal, grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering. Would tens if not hundreds of addicts each year not choose to end their suffering? Two well-meaning doctors is all it would take to bring a whole new kind of killing field to the DTES.

I do not advocate this. It’s only one example of what could happen when personal autonomy triumphs — it chips away at the value of life.

*First published in 24hrs Vancouver ‘theDuel’

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