Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Decriminalize Assisted Suicide: Why Not?

If the Canadian federal government is leaving medical care and health care to the provinces, making transfer payments only and allowing each province to implement its own services, than why are they not doing the same with assisted suicide? How can refusing medical treatment or implementing assisted suicide legislation be considered criminal? Quebec has decided assisted suicide or dying with dignity is part of medical care and should fall under the jurisdiction of the province rather than being a federal matter. Quebecers overwhelmingly support this, making assisted dying a possibility in this province. Considering all the negative one reads and hears about Quebec regarding language laws and discriminatory legislation aimed at anglophones (English speaking ) and allophones (mother tongue other than English or French), and in a sense French speaking Quebecers (not able to attend English schools), it is nice to know that Quebec is progressive on some issues.

Unfortunately, the Federal criminal code prohibits assisted dying, redefining it as a provincial health matter. In 2012, the province of British Columbia declared in a ruling that criminalizing assisted dying was unconstitutional according to the BC Supreme Court. The federal government appealed this decision, for which we are waiting a verdict. Does this issue not fall under individual freedom? Individual rights? Medical Care?

The Canadian Medical Association met recently for a policy convention and no recommendation was issued on the topic. How can that be? Other countries offer their citizens this choice.

Suicide itself is not illegal in Canada, but attempted suicide was not removed from our Criminal Code until 1972. However, counseling suicide – sometimes referred to as aiding and abetting suicide, still remains a criminal act.

Assisted dying is a choice that an individual may make for an illness, disease or medical condition that is terminal, causes unbearable pain, loss of mobility, decreased ability to communicate verbally, cognitively, or to make choices in a rational manner. It is not a choice that should be available to just anyone without the proper medical or mental health support from physicians, nurse, social workers, psychologists or psychiatrists. This requires an inter-disciplinary team consultation and collaboration with the patient and family. Assisted suicide is also an issue I have written on before: Assisted Suicide  and End of Life Rules here on SJS.

Why are other provinces, states, and countries not making dying with dignity a front and center issue? Imagine being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)- a fatal neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s, or cancer that slowly metastasizes to your internal organs knowing that slowly your body will be ‘robbed’ of its mobility and basic functions? The pain is unbearable and no medication can get to the root of it. What would you choose for your child, your spouse, your parent, your best friend? Would you want them to suffer unnecessarily? Would you support their decision to die with dignity? What would you want in the same situation? These are not easy questions, but they deserve the same attention one would give to basic human rights of shelter, food, education, clothing and employment.

I hope to see dying with dignity or assisted dying become a front and center issue as the population continues to age, and more fall into the over 65+ demographic. Here is a website worth looking at, Dying with Dignity.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW
Staff Writer

*Originally published at:

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