It’s been a highly controversial issue for decades. In a significant ruling this week, B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Lynn Smith ruled that the ban on physician-assisted suicide was unconstitutional. In doing so, she agreed with plaintiff Gloria Taylor, age 64, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In making her ruling, Justice Smith suggested that a year was necessary to let the “laws catch up” with the ruling, but granted Ms. Smith a special exemption, so that if she so desires, she can, with the help of a physician, end her own life.
The decision reverses previous rulings, like the famous case involving Sue Rodrigues, also from B.C., who took her quest for the right to die to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992 and, in a split 5-4 decision, lost. Ultimately, Rodrigues took her own life with the aid of an anonymous doctor, but had to do so illegally.
If upheld, Canada will become one of few jurisdictions that legally recognize the right to assisted suicide. Currently, it is allowed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and in three U.S. states, Washington, Oregon and Montana.1
No sooner had Justice Smith ruled, than did the polarities of opinion re-emerge. Petti Fong from The Toronto Star reports: “Dr. Will Johnston, a family doctor in Vancouver with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said an appeal will most certainly be launched.”2 The Vancouver Catholic Archdiocese has spoken out publically against the decision.3 Lawyers representing the government in the Taylor case “argued that overturning the ban [on physician-assisted suicide] would put the elderly, depressed and disabled at risk.”4
In a DeanOnCampus blog one year ago, when physician-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian died, I posed the question, “was he (Kevorkian) a villain, a misdirected zealot, or a hero ahead of his time?”5
It is certainly my personal opinion that we should embrace Justice Smith’s ruling and understand that the fundamental right to end one’s life should rest with the individual, not with the society. To be sure, safeguards need to be put in place, and abuses of such a law could pose a threat. But when facing the undeniable savagery of a disease like ALS, Canadians should be proud that it will be up to Gloria Taylor to decide what is the right course of action for Gloria Taylor.
If you have any thoughts on physician-assisted suicide, please respond to the blog, or better yet…please stop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.