March 1, 2024

A judge loosens Canada’s euthanasia belt another notch or two

Patients no longer need to be terminally ill

Something north of 8,000 people have died in Canada after its Medical Aid in Dying legislation came into effect in 2016. And now it will probably become easier after a decision by a Québec judge.

This week Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the federal legislation which restricts euthanasia to terminally ill patients. The clause says that a patient’s natural death had to be “reasonably foreseeable”. This meant that some patients who wanted to die had to face the prospect of seemingly endless pain.

Denying them access to assisted dying is “forcing them to endure harsh physical and psychological suffering,” Justice Baudouin wrote. “The court has no hesitation in concluding that the requirement that their death has to be reasonably foreseeable is violating the rights to liberty and security of [the plaintiffs.]”

Euthanasia supporters were delighted.

“Three years ago, when the [federal] law was being debated, we raised concerns about the reasonably foreseeable criterion, arguing that it does not comply with the [Supreme Court’s] Carter decision,” said Cory Ruf, of Dying with Dignity Canada. He had heard stories of Canadians who travelled to Switzerland for assisted suicide, starved themselves, or committed suicide because they were unable to obtain relief under the current law.

However, for Dr Michel Racicot, who represents the le Collectif des médecins contre l’euthanasie (Collective of Physicians against Euthanasia), the judgement sends a bad message.

“If we remove this criterion (to be terminally ill), we do not transform medical aid in dying into help for the dying person; rather, it becomes almost death on demand for people who are suffering, but who may still have to a long life ahead of them.”

Furthermore, at a time when the Canadian government is promoting suicide prevention, removing the “reasonably foreseeable” clause creates a two-tier system of suicide, he observed.

“We're going to have two kinds of suicides: good suicides, which are going to be medical aid in dying for people who are not at the end of life — because it's a form of suicide, no doubt about it — and bad suicides, the ones we are trying to prevent. “

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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