Medical assistance in dying: From Rodriguez to Bill-C14.

Author:Ho, Juliana

Medical assistance in dying (MAID) involves intentionally ending one's life with the assistance of a medical doctor. For some individuals, especially those suffering from terminal illnesses, choosing when to die could be very important: for example, persons could choose to end life with dignity, before becoming completely reliant on machines for survival or being forced to endure a slow and painful death because of their illness. In Canada, however, medical assistance in dying has been forbidden under s. 241 of the Criminal Code, which prevents anyone from helping another person to end their life. This blanket prohibition was grounded in the state's interest in protecting life and vulnerable peoples who might be induced in "moments of weakness to commit suicide."

Some Canadians had fought to have this ban against medical assistance in dying overturned. In 1992, Sue Rodriguez brought her case for assisted death all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ms. Rodriguez suffered from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), an incurable and progressive disease that causes the muscles in a person's body to slowly deteriorate, eventually leaving its victim unable to speak or eat without assistance. Statistics suggest that victims typically succumb to the illness two to three years after being diagnosed, with choking, suffocation or pneumonia the likely cause of death. As a result, Ms. Rodriguez argued that prohibiting anyone from helping her end her life when she reached the later stages of her disease violates section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person. More specifically, Ms. Rodriguez claimed that she had the right to control what happened to her body and as such, she ought to be able to make personal decisions about what happens to her in the terminal stages of the illness without government interference. According to Ms. Rodriguez, the inability to make those decisions caused her both physical pain and severe psychological stress.

In its decision, the Court held that while human dignity and free choice is one of the underlying principles of Canadian society, preserving human life is fundamental. Allowing "the state to kill will cheapen the value of human life" and as such, it decided that even those who have terminal illnesses cannot be allowed to make a conscious choice of death over life by seeking to control how and when they want to die. For the Court, the...

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