Friday, November 7, 2008

History of Euthanasia in Canada

1972
- Canadian Parliament abolishes suicide and attempted suicide as crimes under the criminal code.

1980
- First pro-euthanasia group (Dying With Dignity) is founded in Canada.

1983
- Law Reform Commission of Canada release Report on Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment & recommend decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Also recommends for Criminal Code to be changed so physicians are not required to administer treatment against patient’s wishes or when treatment is useless and against patient’s best interest.

- Under Dr. Nachum Gal’s orders (pediatrician at Alberta Hospital), a nurse removes severely brain-damaged infant from life-support and injects it with lethal dose of morphine. Dr. Gal flees to Israel and is unable to be extradited to face murder charges. Nurse in question is receives a 1 year suspension.

1984
- Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Hospital Association, Canadian Bar Association, Catholic Health Association of Canada & Law Reform Commission issue joint statement establishing procedure for Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders.

1987
- Law Reform Commission releases proposed changes to Criminal Code & recommend that mercy killing get treated as 2nd-degree rather than 1st-degree murder (premeditated). At this 2nd-degree murder carries no fixed or minimum jail term.

- Malette v. Shulman - the right of a Jehovah's Witness to refuse life-saving blood transfusion is upheld by Ontario Court of Appeals. It’s noted that it is the duty health care professionals respect such a refusal or refusal made in advance directive.

1990
- Dr. Perry (an MLA) admits he may have hastened his dying father’s death by injecting him with morphine shots. He receives no punishment as B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons states he did nothing illegal since providing palliative care and treatment that may coincidentally hasten death is an acceptable practice.

- Vancouver psychologist David Lewis, admits to assisting in suicides of 8 AIDS patients.
Before legal action is taken, Lewis, also an AIDS patient dies in an assisted prescription drug overdose.

1991
- B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons issues statement against euthanasia after reviewing deaths of two terminal patients under Dr. Peter Graff. Coroner ruled deaths resulted from morphine overdoses and College of Physicians & Surgeons ruled Dr. Graff's treatment was unacceptable. However, criminal charges were not filed.

- Right to Die Society (pro-euthanasia) is formed in Victoria, BC.

- Bill C-203 (act to decriminalize euthanasia & physician assisted suicide of the terminally ill) is introduced. In response, pro-life organization Compassionate Heath Networkis form and the bill gets defeated.

- More euthanasia legislation proposed, Bill C-261, "An Act to legalize the administration of euthanasia under certain conditions to persons who request it and who are suffering from an irremediable condition and respecting the withholding and cessation of treatment and to amend the Criminal Code". Bill C-261 is also defeated in the House of Commons.

- B.C. Royal Commission on Health Care & Costs recommends Criminal Code changes so it recognizes an adults right to refuse treatment & cases where patient is not competent an appointed proxy should have right to make decisions. Also called for decriminalization of physician assisted suicide as long as patient was terminal. Recommendations were never followed.

1992
- Nancy B., an incurable patient requests to have her respirator turned off and Quebec Superior Court rules that "letting nature take its course" is not a criminal offence.

- Canadian Medical Association releases Policy Summary on Advance Directives for Resuscitation and other Life-Saving/Sustaining Measures. Argues physicians must assist patients in such situations but should honor patient's advanced directives.

- Corporation Professionelle des Médecins du Québec (CPMQ) reprimands physician who lethally injected a 38-year-old AIDS patient after receiving consent from patient/patient's family. Physician receives 3 months probation.

- Scott Mataya, a Toronto nurse, is charged with 1st-degree murder after removing s terminally ill patient's ventilator at their request. When patient began to convulse, Mataya injects lethal dose of potassium chloride. Mataya pled guilty to lesser charge of administering noxious substance & gets maximum sentence of 3 years probation & forced to surrender his nursing license.

- Bill C-385, an Act to legalize assisted suicide is read in the House of Commons. Bill is never debated is dropped when an election is called.

1993
- British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General issues guidelines for Crown in charging those involved in cases of active euthanasia & assisted suicide.

- In a vote of 5-to-4 the Supreme Court of Canada dismisses Sue Rodriguez's appeal where she challenged the Criminal Code's criminalization of assisted suicide under Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

- MP Ian Waddell recommends euthanasia legislation which would ensure those assisting the terminally ill (who wish to die) commit suicide are not subject to criminal liability. It is voted down 140 to 25.

- Canadian Medical Association releases Canadian Physicians and Euthanasia, a report intended to educate physicians so they develop their own opinion on the topic.

- Vancouver columnist Lyn Cockburn and two senior editors found in contempt of court when refusing identify their source for a 1991 article describing the assisted suicide of a woman with AIDS.

- Sub-Committee on Recodification of the General Part of the Criminal Code of the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General recommends that Minister of Justice reviews legal & philosophical issues surrounding assisted suicide.

1994
- Another proposed euthanasia bill, C-215 was read and defeated in the House of Commons

- Canadian Medical Association votes against euthanasia.

- Robert Latimer (Saskatchewan) receives life imprisonment without parole for at least ten years when charged with 2nd-degree murder of his daughter Tracy. Latimer argues he was ending her suffering (she was severely physically & developmentally disabled as result of cerebral palsy) when he put her in the back of his truck and allowed her to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

- Cheryl Myers & Michael Power (Nova Scotia) are charged with 2nd-degree murder after they suffocate Myers' terminally ill father. They plead guilty to manslaughter and are sentenced to 3 years probation, and 150 hours of community service.

- Justice Minister Allan Rock publicly states that issues involving cessation of treatment and assisted suicide should be considered by Parliament.

- Prime Minister Chrétien states MPs will have a free vote whether to legalize doctor-assisted suicide.

- A Special Senate Committee is established to examine & report on the legal, social, & ethical issues relating to euthanasia & assisted suicide.

1995
- Alzheimer's suffering Cecil Bush expresses his wish to die and his wife Jean obliges. Despite pleading guilty to manslaughter, she receives a non-custodial sentence, from a judge who felt she had suffered enough.

- Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide issued Of Life and Death report where they conclude involuntary euthanasia should continue to be treated as murder. The majority also opposes voluntary & non-voluntary euthanasia and recommends they remain criminal offences. It is also recommended that Parliament create a separate offense of "compassionate homicide" which would not carry a mandatory life sentence.

1997
- 3 years into his life sentence, Robert Latimer is ordered a new trial by Supreme Court of Canada. He is again convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to two years less a day, notwithstanding that the minimum sentence under the Criminal Code is life in prison with no possibility of parole for ten years.

1998
- Dr. Nancy Morrison removes a terminally ill patient from life support and is charged with the first-degree murder. Nova Scotia judge finds there is insufficient evidence to convict Dr. Morrison and refuses to hear the case.

- Dr. Douglas Kinsella & Marja Verhoef of University of Calgary publish results of 1995 survey of Canadian physicians. Over 57% of the 1,885 physicians who responded said they would not assist a suicide even if it were legalized.

2005
- Bill C-407, is proposed to House of Commons & is designed to amend the Criminal Code and decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

- Group of 61 physicians & 39 lawyer petition against the legalization of physician assisted suicide claiming “we do not want to become the executioners of our patients. The statement was issued prior to the 2nd reading of Bill C-407, which gets voted down.

1 comment:

Ethos said...

For assisted suicide but against voluntary euthanasia !

About the difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide, one must distinguish between the legal, ethical and religious arguments. One cannot just say without qualification that there is no difference between the two : in one case it is the patient himself who take his own life (assisted suicide), whereas in euthanasia it is the physician. One must first specify on what grounds (legal, ethical or religious) he draws is arguments. In the field of ethics, one can reasonably argue that there is no difference between the two. However, in the legal field, there is a difference between euthanasia (so-called first-degree murder with a minimum sentence of life imprisonment) and assisted suicide (which is not a murder or homicide and which the maximum sentence is 14 years of imprisonment). In the case of assisted suicide, the cause of death is the patient's suicide and assisted suicide is somehow a form of complicity (infraction of complicity). But since the attempted suicide was decriminalized in Canada in 1972 (and in 1810 in France), this complicity (infraction of abetting suicide) makes no sense because this infraction should only exist if there is a main offence. But the suicide (or attempted suicide) is no longer a crime since 1972. So, logically, there cannot be any form of complicity in suicide. The offense of assisted suicide is a nonsense. Judge McLachlin said :

« In summary, the law draws a distinction between suicide and assisted suicide. The latter is criminal, the former is not. The effect of the distinction is to prevent people like Sue Rodriguez from exercising the autonomy over their bodies available to other people. The distinction, to borrow the language of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, "is difficult to justify on grounds of logic alone": Working Paper 28, Euthanasia, Aiding Suicide and Cessation of Treatment (1982), at p. 53. In short, it is arbitrary »

In contrast, voluntary euthanasia is considered a first-degree murder. The doctor kills the patient (at his request) by compassion to relieve his pain and suffering. There's a violation of one of the most fundamental ethical and legal principles : the prohibition to kill a human being. Our democratic societies are based on the principle that no one can remove a person's life. The end of the social contract is "the preservation of the contractors" and the protection of life has always founded the social fabric. We've abolished the death penalty in 1976 (and in 1981 in France) in response to the « broader public concerns about the taking of life by the state » (see United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283) ! Even if voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the patient) may, under certain circumstances, be justified ethically, we cannot ipso facto concluded that euthanasia should be legalized or decriminalized. The legalization or decriminalization of such an act requires that we take into account the social consequences of the legalization or decriminalization. The undeniable potential of abuse (especially for the weak and vulnerable who are unable to express their will) and the risk of erosion of the social ethos by the recognition of this practice are factors that must be taken into account. The risk of slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia (at the request of the competent patient) to non-voluntary euthanasia (without the consent of the incompetent patient) or involuntary (without regard to or against the consent of the competent patient) are real as confirmed by the Law Reform Commission of Canada which states :

"There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used as well to eliminate those who are a burden to others or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject's consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act ».

Eric Folot