Medically assisted death offers options.

Author:Davison, Charles

In 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision in the case of a B.C. woman who wanted the right to be able to determine the timing and circumstances of her own death; what was termed at the time "doctor-assisted suicide", and what has now become referred to as medical assistance in dying or MAID. This reflects the fact that sometimes other medical professionals, including nurse practitioners and pharmacists, may be involved.

It has virtually always been a crime in Canada for any person to assist another to commit suicide (presently section 241 of the Criminal Code). In 1993 the Supreme Court refused to strike down this law when it decided the case of Rodriguez v. Attorney General of British Columbia. However, by 2015 the legal and social landscape had changed, and the Supreme Court ruled that Canadians should have the right to the assistance of a doctor in ending their own lives, in certain circumstances (Carter v. Attorney General of Canada).

The details of the decision and arguments against physician-assisted death are being explored in other articles in this issue. In this piece, I will attempt to identify and discuss what might be considered the advantages of allowing individuals this final, ultimate choice.

The most obvious benefit to this change in the law is also the point which was most central to the Supreme Court's decision: the alleviation of extreme personal suffering and pain. Many of the individuals who have litigated these issues (including Sue Rodriguez in 1993 and Gloria Taylor in, as well as "S.M.", the applicant in the first decision in Canada permitting physician assisted death made on February 29, 2016 in Calgary) suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("ALS"). It was described in the 2015 Supreme Court decision as leading to the gradual loss of all basic body functions: "ALS patients first lose the ability to use their hands and feet, then the ability to walk, chew, swallow, speak and eventually breathe." Despite medical procedures and the use of medication and drugs, death comes painfully and at least sometimes, slowly.

And unfortunately, it is not just persons suffering from ALS who must endure such ordeals: many other diseases and conditions involve unending, permanent pain and unpredictable periods of suffering. Some conditions end in death, while others do not. In some situations, the individual must look forward to a long, painful life of disability and suffering.

With the change in the law triggered...

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