The Supreme Court of Canada has given the Federal Government a directive to revise the Criminal Code to remove the ban on assisted suicide. The Federal Government is now struggling to determine exactly what changes to the Criminal Code should be recommended.

 

The first challenge facing the Federal Government is jurisdictional. In other countries that permit physician assisted suicide one level of government decides and administers the procedure. In Canada however the Provinces have the power and the responsibility to regulate health care.

 

If the Federal Government adopts a narrow role and does not try to regulate assisted suicide the Provinces will be left to enact legislation which may be different in every Province. Most people believe there should be reasonably equal access to physician assisted suicide across the country.

 

Some of the other challenges revolve around the issue of who is to be considered competent to request assisted suicide. What about including “mature” minors or mentally handicapped but competent adults? What if a person has given an advance directive for euthanasia while they were still competent? Should assisted suicide be confined to only people who are at the end of their life? Some countries will allow physician assisted suicide in non-terminal situations to relieve persistent intolerable suffering. Can doctors object and refuse to participate?

 

All of these issues and more are currently being debated and soon we will have the Federal Government’s position. Whatever the Federal Government decides to do there will undoubtedly be many years of litigation wherein the Constitutional issues are determined by the courts.

 

Deborah A. Todd
Deborah A. Todd