Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bill C - 407: A Critique - Euthanasia in the Law

Bill C - 407:

Despite my support for euthanasia as a general concept, I believe that had I been an MP in parliament the day the Bill C - 407 was voted on, I probably would not have supported its passage. It was after all, just an amendment, a rather small document utterly unable to address or even cope with the storming controversy surrounding this issue. This post is designed to address some of Bill C - 407's short falls, as well as some of the legal complications inherent in the situation. 

The first and perhaps most controversial aspect of this bill was that it gave an individual the right to request euthanasia even if they had refused appropriate medical treatments. This was an outrage for many interest groups that oppose euthanasia, and on a very personal level I find this to be somewhat objectionable as well. I believe that euthanasia should only be considered in the more hopeless of circumstances, in which there is enduring pain and suffering without the possibility of relief. However, as mentioned in a previous post, we cannot force someone to receive medical treatment under Canadian law, so a provision in a euthanasia bill that prohibits someone from being euthanized because they have not tried all available medical options would likely be struck down as unlawful. 

This represents an intrinsic conundrum for the legal system and its ability to deal with euthanasia in a way that reflects the attitudes of the citizens of Canada. Many individuals would not support someone euthanizing themselves if they had not tried all available curative options. This remains an issue that must be dealt with if we are to put a new policy into place that is supportive of assisted suicide. 

Another major flaw inherent in Bill C- 407 is the vagueness of much of its wording. For instance, the bill uses the word "lucid" to identify a person who is able to consent to death. However, the bill does not outline any procedures or steps one can take to ascertain how "lucid" a person is. Should one just use their own judgement? Should the patient be referred to a psychiatrist to determine how "lucid" they are? Or should the simple fact that they can form a coherent sentence be used to infer that they are in a "lucid" frame of mind?

Aside from this the bill also ignores the issue surrounding the appropriateness of the word "lucid" as a proper criteria for consenting to euthanasia. For example, is a chronically depressed individual in the right frame of mind to make a decision regarding assisted suicide? My answer would be that it invariably depends on the situation. I am sure we could all imagine a situation in which we would believe that a depressed individual should not be making such a decision. However, under Bill C-407 they would be given that right and there would be very little that anyone could do about it. This example highlights the fact that other psychological variables may be at play in the decision making process and that we may want to examine these before we agree that a person is "lucid" and capable of making a fully informed decision. 

This point can also be highlighted when we consider age as a variable in the decision making process. For instance, in the Netherlands they allows euthanasia for individuals as young as 12 to be euthanized (although Bill C-407 restricted this to 18). Do individuals this young really have a good conception of what being euthanized will mean? Do they have the cognitive capacity to make this decision? This is yet another issue that was left unaddressed by Bill C - 407 and will have to be addressed in order to ensure that we have adequate restrictions on the usage of euthanasia as a "medical treatment". 

The last point I'd like to make is that the role of the medical practitioner in Bill C - 407 was also rather vague.  Under the bill anyone could technically euthanize someone else as long as they were a medical practitioner or under the "supervision" of a medical practitioner. The law does not clearly address what is entailed in this supervision and I believe that it should. I believe that if we are not specific in setting up a law like this, misuses or abuses could potentially occur and that we need to show due diligence in anticipating these. 

These are just a few of the more poignant issues I had with the bill. There is one more that I was unsure about so I thought I would leave it as a question for readers:

Many opponents of this bill said that if it were enacted, someone who decided they wanted to be euthanized could do so in less than 2 weeks (the bill required a minimum of 10 days between requests to be euthanized). Do you think this is right? Is this enough time to make a decision about whether you would like to continue living? 

1 comment:

From The Margins said...

Yeah I really hate it when people impose their beliefs on other.
'How dare you want euthanasia when you havent considered other medical treatments'.
What if the person found that they were alienated in their time of need and no one came to them to provide support? What if they felt alone in the world and no reason for living? Perhaps they rather die than continue on with their life in a superficial world.
We dont know or understand what would cause someone to believe euthanasia is the best option.