Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Euthanasia & Abortion: Political Stats and more...

Euthanasia is taken from a Greek word meaning ‘die well’. Some may argue that dying well would mean painlessly leaving this world when the alternative may be living in pain, discomfort, regret, and burden on yourself, and your loved ones.

There is a constant difference that arises when discussing euthanasia, which do you value more? Quality of life or quantity of life?

Most political parties don’t really discuss euthanasia all that much. However, over the past 20 years or so, there have been differences of opinion about abortion (which as you may have guessed, we find to be comparable). We should acknowledge that people don’t always see the comparison because they don’t consider a fetus a person until a specific date, but for argumentative purposes, we consider a fetus a life once it is conceived.

Since the January 2006 election, one-third of MP’s in Parliament can be labeled anti-choice, the majority of whom are Conservatives. To be anti-choice or pro-choice is identified with the power to make decisions about your life. Those who believe in pro-choice often also believe in euthanasia, not always, but often. The difference again is how and when you consider a fetus to be a life.

Action Canada Population and Development (ACPD) reported a new total of 90 anti-choice MPs from all parties, 16 Liberals and 74 Conservatives. There were 5 fewer anti-choice Liberal MPs and only 4 more anti-choice Conservative MPs. 65 MPs did not state their positions, (42 Conservatives, 23 Liberals). Also, there were 3 more pro-choice Conservative MPs, for a total of 8, and a total of 64 pro-choice Liberals. ACPD says that abortion rights should be safe during this Parliament, because of the minority of potential anti-choice votes. (

The above statistics show the patterns of how the MP’s of Canada viewed the topic of choice. With the majority or pro-choice perspectives held within the Liberal Party. One would argue that those numbers have not changed much in the last two years.

We find it most interesting to figure out how and when change takes place. How does one change their minds on such ‘touchy’ and personal issues? When it comes to abortion, some may change their minds when their partner, or daughter, or friend, is prematurely pregnant. For euthanasia, some may begin to think about it more when they see their loved one falls ill, and in pain. Or maybe when they see someone suffering, and know that their life is nearing the end, so why the extra unnecessary pain? However, some people may never change their mind, and of course, that’s ok too. We are individuals, for the reasons that we can have our individual opinions and individual choices (although not all choices are granted yet).

Please continue to comment and share your ideas on some of these points. We welcome your thoughts, and appreciate your feedback and/or suggestions.

The information from this entry is taken from:
-Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (www.arcc-cdac.ca)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Supreme Court Decision Pt 2 - Euthanasia in the Law

This is a continuation of the previous description of the supreme court judgements on euthanasia. In this section we will take into consideration Sections 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hopefully convey their relationship to Section 214 of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Section 12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

According to the appellant in this case, by prohibiting assisted suicide, the government was subjecting her to "cruel and unusual treatment or punishment", due to the fact that they were forcing her to live in torturous circumstances. The judgement by the supreme court on this issue was that a prohibition against assisted suicide is not "treatment" because there is no active role the government is playing in the painful circumstances. Thus, the lack of an active role by the government in the appellants circumstances ensured that Section 12 was not being violated.

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

At first glance this statute appears relatively neutral to euthanasia. However, when considering this, one also has to account for the fact that suicide (unassisted) was decriminalized by the government because it was an ineffective deterrent for many people. This means that individuals who suffer from a physical disability and are unable to commit suicide themselves, also suffer from a fundamental inequality under the law. In their case, the government has the power to reach into their lives and infringe upon their fundamental autonomy by criminalizing suicide, while an individual who does not have this same level of physical disability can attempt suicide with no criminal consequences. 

The issues raised by section 15(1) are extremely complex and while it appears that Section 15(1) of the charter was actually infringed upon, the supreme court decided that Section 241 was justified under section 1 of the charter.

Section 1:  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

As was discussed before, the government was determined to have a reasonable objective in enacting Section 241 of the Criminal Code, which was protecting vulnerable citizens and the sanctity of life in society as a whole. This appeared to be a recognition by the supreme court that to strike down section 241 and eliminate the blanket prohibition of assisted suicide would place the government in the awkward position of having to police "justifiable" assisted suicide attempts. They stated that no system of policing has up to this point proved satisfactory, so they therefore judged that the blanket prohibition was "demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society" and section 241 was upheld.

Thats the basic outline of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) and hopefully for anyone reading that it made sense. Please don't hesitate to ask any questions if I wasn't clear on anything or leave a comment if you agree or disagree with the rulings. 

Religion & Euthanasia - Intro.

No debate regarding euthanasia can be had without discussing the role of religion. Stories on people refusing medical procedures because of religious beliefs have received a lot of media attention and it seems to be a hot button topic. However, there is still discussion as to whether or not this constitutes euthanasia. The uncertainty revolves around the definition of euthanasia.

To elaborate on our previous definition, euthanasia is defined as the intentional killing by ‘act’ or ‘omission’ of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit. Religions ties into the idea of euthanasia by omission. Euthanasia by omission refers to intentionally causing a person’s death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water. The key word in these two definitions is ‘intentional’. The act or omission must be done with the INTENTION of causing death to be considered euthanasia. So to some, refusing medical procedures on the basis of religious beliefs is not euthanasia because the intent is not to cause death. As far as we are concerned, standing by and withholding medical intervention that will benefit a patient IS euthanasia.

Refusing medical treatment because of religious beliefs is generally accepted by the population and there have been many cases (that will be discussed at a later date) of courts upholding decisions by patients to do so. Why is this considered ok but euthanasia by omission is not? To us, they are the same thing...regardless of intent. Withholding medical treatment that could benefit a patient, although it may not be done with the intention of killing the patient, is still just as bad as acting or refusing to act for the sake of killing a patient.

The role of religion and how it relates to euthanasia is a topic that we will discuss further in the near future and we would really like to know how people feel about this. Are they linked? Should they be? Are they one in the same? Let us know.

-Definitions for Euthanasia taken from the euthanasia.com website

Abortion vs. Euthanasia

One of the most beautiful things about Canada is how we are so multicultural and diverse. There are no two people the same, and no two people that can internalize things in the same way. That is something wonderful that we should embrace. We should embrace our likes, and our differences. And most of all, respect each other for who they are. To allow for this great respect, there needs to be an immense appreciation for the beliefs and choices of others. For a country so big, it seems odd that there is no open pathway to make your own decisions about managing your life the way you see fit.

One of our concerns is how we can be so liberal in legalizing abortion, yet deny the option for euthanasia. It is shocking how the word ‘choice’ became so limited.

The progression of Canada's abortion laws started in the 1960s. Pierre Trudeau introduced a bill in 1967 (amendment to Section 251 of the Canadian Criminal Code). This bill was called the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, and provided for abortions when the health of the woman was in danger as determined by a three-doctor hospital committee.
It is interesting how the health of the woman was the deciding factor for abortion, as noted by a physician. While with euthanasia, you must factor in the future health of the patient, which is over looked.

This same bill also legalized homosexuality and contraception, and would be the subject of one of Trudeau's most famous quotations: "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." Perhaps he needed to be clearer on where else the state has no business being. If people can make choices about their sexuality, and women can make choices about ending the life of their fetus, then why can’t people make the choice of ending their own life if the alternative is pain and suffering?

In 1973, Dr. Henry Morgantaler had confessed performing over 5000 abortions without the approval of the three-doctor hospital committee because he did not believe the law went far enough. The case went to court multiple times; Morgantaler spent time in jail, and upon release opened an abortion clinic, which lead to more ongoing trials.

In the courts decision (Morgentaler et. al. v. Her Majesty The Queen [1988] (1 S.C.R. 30) at 37), the Court stated:
"The right to liberty... guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting his or her private life. ... The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state."

Now replace the word pregnancy with ‘life’. It is a moral decision, and who better to make that decision than that individual with the support of the people closest to them.

Information from this entry is taken from:
- Supreme Court Case R. vs. Morgantaler
- Abortions Rights Coalition of Canada

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Supreme Court Decision Pt 1 - Euthanasia in the Law

Thanks to those who've responded so far.. we will respond to your comments as soon as we can and hopefully, we'll have something intelligent to say about them.

For now, we thought it might be an ideal time to describe in more detail the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General), so that people may gain an understanding of the current status of euthanasia with regards to Canadian Law.

In the context of this case, the Supreme court only examined Section 241(b) of the criminal code (the legal reasons for this are not clear to us at this point, perhaps if someone knows the reason they could illuminate this for us). This section in the Crimainal Code was challenged by sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, although according to the judges it appeared that section 7 of the charter was the most important and deserved the most consideration.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Section 7 of the charter defined here enshrines 3 distinct values within it (life, liberty and security of person), that cannot be deprived from an individual unless it is done so according to “the principles of fundamental justice”. The court made it clear that in this case the value that was violated most clearly was an individuals security of person. The other two values life (which was not violated), and liberty, were not seen as overly consequential because one violation of any value is enough for a challenge.

This left the court with the question of whether or not depriving Sue Rodriquez in this case of her right to security of person could be justified under a “principle of fundamental justice”. However, in order to make such a decision the court had to outline what exactly constituted a “principle of fundamental justice” for this case. To establish these principles, the court decided to consider the rationale and principles guiding the practice of assisted suicide and the legislative history regarding the practice.

The legislative history of Section 214 is relatively simple. It existed within the Criminal Code when parliament first enacted it and since then it has provided a blanket prohibition against assisted suicide. This provision fulfilled the governments interest in protecting vulnerable individuals and reflected the states interest in protecting the sanctity of life and ensuring that its value is not depreciated by allowing the taking of it. This general belief that life should not be taken or depreciated in any way manifests itself throughout the Canadian society and its legal system. For example, the abolishment of capital punishment in Canada represents an expression of this value. To this extent there appears to be coherence and consensus within Canadian society that human life must be respected. Due to the controversial nature of this subject, this appears to be the only consensus that can be achieved, as the decriminalization of assisted suicide does not enjoy widespread support. Based on these ideas the court determined that in Canadian society ‘the sanctity of life’ was a “principal of fundamental justice”.
Given the concerns about abuse and the great difficulty in creating effective safeguards against such abuse, the blanket prohibition against assisted suicide was not considered to be arbitrary. It was related to the governments real concerns about protecting vulnerable citizens and reflected some of the fundamental values at work in our society. It was by this reasoning that the Supreme Court decided a violation of the security of person enshrined under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was justified by the principles of fundamental justice.

This decision essentially enshrined the sanctity of life’s pre-eminence over security of person in the Canadian Legal system.

Due to the length of this entry sections 12 and 15 will be covered in separate blog entries. However, we thought it would be interesting to leave the reader with some questions to consider and hopefully respond too.

This decision essentially enshrined the sanctity of life’s preeminence over security of person in the Canadian Legal system. Are there any circumstances in which this may be a negative thing (other than the current one if you think of it as negative)?

Respect for human dignity was mentioned as a founding principle for our society in this decision, but it was not considered a principle of fundamental justice. Do you think this is a fair judgement?

The previous entry mentioned abortions legal status in Canada and its possible relation to euthanasia. How do you think this relates to the supreme court decision? Will the fact that we have placed the sanctity of life above personal security influence the provision of abortions?

If readers want a more eloquent explanation of the decision, they may want to refer to this website for the supreme court judges rational regarding their decions:


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some things to consider...

I believe it is important to note that Euthanasia refers to the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. It is mostly considered when an individual is suffering from an illness that may be painful or incurable and there seems to be no chance of a positive recovery. Euthanasia has been an ongoing debate in many countries for years, and it crosses the lines of morality, ethical, religious, and cultural views.

Referring back to the case mentioned earlier, Rodriguez vs. BC, I wanted to touch on the points on why that ruling concluded the way that it did. After numerous appeals the verdict stood for the Crown Attorney. An interesting point that came out of the verdict was that even when death appears imminent, seeking to control the manner and timing of one's death constitutes a conscious choice of death over life. This point referred to s.7 of the Charter, and explains life as a value.

What we would like to open to our readers is how the term 'value' and the idea of 'life' are related, and who should be controlling the relationship that those terms hold to each individual. Should we be looking strictly at the legalities of the issue? Who would be a suitable figure to identify and measure the value of life for each person who is searching for closure?

Euthanasia is a very controversial issue, for many of the reasons we have already mentioned. However, it has often been related and compared to abortion. Abortion is legal in Canada, in fact, it is often funded by Medicare. According to Statistics Canada, 2003, over 110,000 abortions are performed in Canada every year, that represents a ratio of about 30 abortions to every 100 live births.

What do you suppose is so different in the choice to take the life of an unborn child, and the choice one makes to take their own life, when they feel they will not be able to value it as they intend to?

There is an interesting comparison with the two issues that perhaps we will expose in later entries. What we encourage our readers to think about is the legalities of euthanasia, and the legal opportunities available or unavailable in order to make that choice.

We will discuss different legal cases from the past, as well as different perspectives on the issue from various religious and ethical standpoints. We will also explore the medical side of euthanasia and the impact that medical practitioners have on its legal status.

We encourage our readers to voice their opinions and thoughts on this issue, and we hope to cover any other areas of interest that are brought to our attention.

Information was taken from:
-Statistics Canada 2003
-Supreme Court of Canada Website

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An introduction - Euthanasia in the Law

This blog has been created to provide a potential avenue for debate about the legal, moral and cultural aspects of euthanasia in Canada. This issue has undoubtedly captured the attention of many Canadians but it is the authors experience that many remain yet uninformed about the circumstances and moral issues at stake. People generally react to this issue from a more instinctual and emotive place, and rightly so, as such an issue should evoke a strong reaction from the individual. However, often this strong reaction biases people to quickly and they are often unable to approach the issue with a mind open to the different moral issues at stake.

This issue in fact brings into focus several powerful and competing values in our society, which in many ways have been enshrined in our laws. In 1993 the supreme court case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) caused Canadians suddenly became aware as to how these values had manifested themselves in the law and of their intrinsic contradictions.

Sue Rodriguez was a woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and was seeking physician assisted suicide (which some individuals argue is distinct from euthanasia). Specific sections of the criminal code prevented doctors from helping her commit suicide so she challenged them under sections 7, 12, and 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A quick overview of these specific sections will help introduce the reader to some of the fundamental aspects of the debate around the issue of euthanasia.

There are three sections of the Canadian Criminal Code that are most relevant:

"14. No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.
"241. Everyone who counsels a person to commit suicide or aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years."
215."... every one is under a legal duty to provide necessaries of life to a person under his charge if that person is unable, by reason of (...) illness, mental disorder or other cause, to withdraw himself from that charge and is unable to provide himself with the necessaries of life."

These sections of the Canadian Criminal Code reflect one of the more pervasive values in Canadian society, the sacredness of life. The sacredness of life in this case evinces itself through societies long standing prohibitions against suicide under any circumstances. Additionally it is interesting to note that the Criminal Code even goes so far as to outlaw passive euthanasia, the withdrawing of life sustaining care (215).

As was stated before these sections were challenged in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The relevant sections are as follows:

Section 7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Section 12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Section 15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The chief and most important challenge related to Section 7 of the Charter and that was given the most weight in the decision by the supreme court. This section of the Charter outlines the deeply held Canadian value of autonomy and the right of a person to be free from the interference of outside sources (although obviously there are some exceptions to this). This might be considered the other major force in the conflict of our values. For many people this decision boils down to the question: Which value, the sacredness of life or the right to personal autonomy, has primacy over the other one?

At this point in the interest of brevity (ha) we will not do a rigorous analysis of the reasoning the court applied to the decision, we instead invite the reader to respond with their own thoughts regarding these laws and their possible interactions.

One might also consider the issues that treating this from a legal standpoint raises. For instance, how far or to what extent should our laws be used to enforce moral positions in society? This issue has an understandably strong moral undercurrent, and causes us to examine the role of law in enforcing these standards. Many people believe that euthanasia should be prohibited or allowed for moral reasons, so it is imperative that we consider this role for law in the moral realm.