EDITORIAL: How Far Do We Go?

EDITORIAL: How Far Do We Go?


How Far Do We Go?


Our mailbag recently included a letter suggesting that we tackle the subject of Bill C-14, the federal legislation to allow “medical assistance in dying,” or assisted suicide. I don’t know about you, but the subject makes me distinctly uncomfortable.

My initial reaction to the current debate has a lot to do with my views about suicide itself. When I was younger, I studied moral philosophy and spent many hours struggling to think through my positions on basic principles of morality and ethics, and on the ethical issues of the day. My views aren’t pat answers casually arrived at or a simple matter of “because God says so.” At the same time, I’m pretty sure God isn’t keen on suicide, and while I know He’s up for a good argument, I hate to disagree with my boss—especially when only one of us is omniscient.

But the current debate isn’t about whether one approves of suicide: the Supreme Court last year unanimously declared unconstitutional the Criminal Code prohibition of assisted suicide, as a result of which decision the federal government has until June 6 to make some rules or there simply won’t be any. The question Canadians have to ponder isn’t whether assisted suicide is to be permitted but whether it will be subject to certain conditions and restrictions or subject to no restrictions at all. Decisions have to be made, no matter how uncomfortable we may find the process of making them. That process must involve thinking through some difficult questions.

Where once doctors might find themselves in serious trouble for helping to bring about a death, doctors who cannot in good conscience provide that assistance may find themselves pressured or even obliged to do so. Will they be protected? While Bill C-14 sets limits—a patient must be an adult, mentally competent, and seriously ill or disabled, and his or her death must be “reasonably foreseeable,” some argue that those limits are too restrictive, forcing minors and mentally ill patients to endure what other patients won’t have to. Slippery-slope arguments often blow things out of proportion, but it’s reasonable to wonder how far we are willing to push the idea. Is there a danger that we might, as the columnist Andrew Coyne has written, “normalize suicide”? How much pain is too much to bear? How much mental anguish? How much disability is too much? When is an older person’s life no longer worth living? And might a family member someday get to decide these things for us?

These are some of the questions Canadians will have to answer. We’d like to hear what you have to say.


Murray Lewis, Editor-in-Chief


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