Sunday, June 24, 2012

Right-to-die ruling leaves big questions

By Iain Hunter, Times Colonist June 24, 2012
I wish those campaigning for my right to end my life when it becomes unbearable would show a little more restraint than they've shown recently.
Dying with Dignity has called the June 15 decision of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith, that the law against physician-aided death is unconstitutional, a "stunning victory."

I think the right-to-die movement isn't served by this kind of talk. If this is a war, I don't know who the enemy is.

I don't believe that those in our society who think that life, even when sadly depleted, has great value, or our legislators, who have decreed that euthanasia is a crime, set out to tyrannize or brutalize anyone. 

I do, indeed, dread the possibility, or probability, of having to put up with a severely degraded, drugged and plugged-in existence that I no longer recognize as a life because others have decided that's how it must be.
I don't understand why those who may be authorized, one day, to write "do not resuscitate" on my chart, can't be authorized to write "terminate," if that's the way I want it.

But this is what I, fairly hale and almost hearty, can say now. I don't know how I'll feel when things get really bad.

I don't know if I'll be able to express whatever feelings I have at what should or could be the end.

My father, a physician, took a long time to die. What he was suffering, he said on the last day I saw him, Hitler should have gone through.

After he'd gone, my mother found a syringe and fatal drug dose that he'd hidden. Had he changed what obviously what was in his mind at one stage? Or had he left it too late?

Some approaching nearer to death don't lose courage, but gain it. They claim no right to dignity. They claim the right to live, to die trying.

Smith found the current provisions against physician-aided suicide or voluntary euthanasia unconstitutional because they unjustifiably infringe the Charter equality rights of Gloria Taylor, an ALS victim among other plaintiffs, and her right to life, liberty and security of the person.

So what has changed since 1993, when the Supreme Court of Canada found the current law didn't violate the rights of Sue Rodriguez, another ALS victim, who subsequently found a doctor to help her die?

Public opinion? Polls since then on the issue are all over the map, partly because of the way the question is put, partly because their "samples" are ridiculously low.

Dying with Dignity sees a conspiracy in recent polls, such as the CBC one released the same day as Smith's decision, suggesting nearly 75 per cent of us don't want the law changed. It might be an "organized effort" by those opposed "to load responses" and influence public opinion, its website sneered.
Should polls guide our legislators deciding life or death issues, like this one, abortion and capital punishment? I recall no overwhelming demand for ending the death penalty when Parliament did so in 1976. Should it be reinstated because 61 per cent of those polled by Angus Reid in February think it should be?

What seems to have changed, if Smith's decision is upheld, is the courts' view of the Charter as a "living tree" on which new branches seem to be sprouting constantly. She found that cases since 1993 have discovered the principles that laws must not be "overbroad" or "grossly disproportionate," and she found the Criminal Code ban on physician-assisted death to be both.

Even with safeguards such as second opinions and monitoring, the evidence shows "risks" to the vulnerable - inability to make an informed decision, coercion, a wrong assessment of "voluntariness" - exist.

But they can be largely avoided. Is "largely" enough?

The Charter acknowledges in its preamble "the supremacy of God." Not all of us presume to do, or undo, His works.

Love and humanity moves those touched by lives now ending. They want to keep close those who are going, even when love and humanity urge them to release those longing to go.

What parliament, what court, can confine or comfort a soul in distress?

Read more: