Saturday, February 07, 2015

Assisted Dying coming to Canada

What a week this past week has been. While I was away on a business trip to Europe the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) let it be known that it would release on Friday this week its decision on the so-called Carter case, that is, it would pronounce on the constitutionality of the bits and pieces in our Criminal Code that criminalise assisted dying.

Unless you have lived under a rock during these last few years you will know that I spent a significant amount of my time arguing in favour of the decriminalisation of assisted dying in the country, no least in a report of an expert panel the Royal Society of Canada asked me to chair, on end-of-life decision-making in Canada. In addition I wrote a large number of newspaper columns on the issue and gave oodles of TV interviews and what-not to advance that cause.

So, there I was holed up in hotel rooms in Brussels and Geneva trying to respond to media inquiries. Fearlessly I predicted that the court would come to a unanimous decision and that it would decriminalise assisted dying. I couldn't see, given what we know from jurisdictions that have decriminalised, that the Justices would fall for the slippery-slope clap-trap rolled out by religious opponents of assisted dying, and, of course, their biggest ally, the current Attorney General of this country. I also couldn't see that the Justices would wilfully ignore consistent opinion polls suggesting that overwhelming (I mean: more than 80%) majorities of Canadians are in favour of a change toward making assisted dying available.

It turns out, I was right. The SCC came down with this unanimous decision, defining thus who would be able to receive assistance in dying: a 'competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.'

This is pretty much what we recommended in our report. What I find particularly important about these criteria is that the Justices rejected a threshold requiring that patients must be in a terminal condition, or near the end of life. The current legislation, on this count, in Quebec, will have to be re-written. At the last minute opponents of Quebec's legislation added this threshold, and, thanks to the SCC decision, it will have to be taken out of Quebec's legislation again as it would unjustly deprive people of access to assisted dying who are not close to the end of their lives.

I think, among the important lessons to be learned from all this, is this one: Opponents of assisted dying should reconsider their campaign strategies. They decided that telling anecdotes from jurisdictions that have decriminalised, making up a lot of stuff about things that allegedly happened in such jurisdictions and telling half-truths about what allegedly happened in jurisdictions that have decriminalized worked in their religious echo chamber of pro-life websites, as well as with allied newspaper columnists like the National Post's Barbara Kay and the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno, and so it would probably work with Supreme Court Justices, too. Turns out, Supreme Court Justices are a bit smarter than DiManno and Kay, who have shown themselves clueless about the issue at hand throughout their years of campaigning in their newspaper columns against assisted dying. The judges looked at the actual evidence and 'rejected the argument that adoption of a regulatory regime would initiate a descent down a slippery slope into homicide.'

The other vacuous agitprop campaign tool deployed by this camp was their ever-growing concern for 'the vulnerable'. Given that they didn't want assisted dying available to anyone, they were careful never to define 'vulnerable'. Turns out, they and their government ally, the Attorney General, really meant everyone. Vulnerability ceases then to be a useful threshold criterion for anything. The Attorney General eventually said, on the Court record, that 'every person is potentially vulnerable.' The Supreme Court called curtains on this rhetoric, too. It states point blank, 'We do not agree.' - 

Aggressive lying and fudging of the issues apparently takes you only that far when it comes to Canada's Supreme Court Justices.

I wonder whether one analysis in the judgment (paragraphs 64-66) could be interpreted as rejecting the Catholic acts and omissions doctrine. Check that one out yourself. Worth a read.