Assisted Suicide or Medical Malpractice?

Man rubbing his nose - assisted suicide or medica malpractice

Assisted Suicide or Medical Malpractice – Canada’s Legal Perspective

There are few things in life more tragic than witnessing a loved one dying of a painful, terminal or degenerative disease. In such cases, quality of life can be severely affected, and many afflicted with near-constant or unremitting pain are unable to experience any kind of joy or pleasure. Because there have been no laws against suicide in Canada since 1972, many victims have made the painful and difficult decision to end their lives rather than continue to suffer until their eventual death. Although some question the morality of such a decision, laws against suicide were removed from the Criminal Code as it hinders individual’s freedom to make decisions over their own life and body. But what happens when an individual wishes to end their own life but is unable to physically due so due to loss of muscle control or other disability?

This was the question that arose in the 1993 case Rodriguez v British Columbia, which argued that laws against physician-assisted suicide violated the fundamental rights of Canadians to the liberty and security of the person, equality, and protection against cruel and unusual punishment, all provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court found that the provision of the Criminal Code making assisted suicide illegal did not violate the Charter, largely because prohibition of suicide in such cases reflected the Charter’s values, particularly the sanctity of life. Additionally, the ruling judge wrote, as paraphrased by one analysis (The Rodriguez Case: A Review of the Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Assisted Suicide), that “in order to protect the lives of the vulnerable, it is necessary to maintain a blanket prohibition on assisted suicide”.

That ruling was the standard for nearly two decades, but there remains a large and aggressive fight to have that section of the Criminal Code overturned. In 2011, the issue was again brought before the Supreme Court of BC, who this time ruled that individual freedoms were violated, but was quickly overturned by the Appeals Court. Later this year, the case will go before the Supreme Court of Canada, a decision that is highly anticipated by those on both sides of the debate. In a legislative action, the Quebec National Assembly recently, passed a bill to allow terminally ill patients the right to die with medical assistance, a law that is likely to be challenged by the federal government. Depending on the outcome of either the legislative or court action, Canada may become one of only a handful of nations where assisted suicide is legal. While public opinion continues to be divided on the issue, as this news story from CTV illustrates, most Canadians agree that we must do more to enforce the right to a death as dignified and free from pain as possible. However, most also agree that protecting those most vulnerable from potential abuse or coercion into assisted suicide is of the utmost importance, and legalizing such an act could demean the value of life. These are but a few factors that are causing the controversy, and as such will be judged in both the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion.

Do you believe that the right to liberty should extend to the right to control the time and circumstances of their death? Are you concerned about potential abuse is assisted suicide becomes legal? Are you concerned that the focus on assisted suicide may cause the fight for improved palliative care to fall by the wayside? Whatever side you agree with, it is clear that the upcoming year will be fundamentally important to both the legal and medical communities, not to mention to large and growing population of those with terminal and degenerative illnesses who may wish to seek out such options in the future.

Contact Mackesy Smye for legal advice surrounding assisted suicide and medical malpractice – we’re here to help.

Related Articles

what if my doctor prescribes the wrong medication?

When Medicine Makes Us Sick – Medical Malpractice Law

If you’re injured by a third party, what rights do you have? Can you sue for pain and suffering as you would in an auto accident? It’s different for both off-road vehicles and watercraft. In this article, we explain the differences and also give some great advice for staying safe off-road and on the water.

Read Article
Family Medical Doctor Malpractice in Ontario

Medical Malpractice: Family Doctor Negligence

Proving medical malpractice can be difficult but in cases where a family doctor was negligent in administering healthcare, victims should have their case heard by the courts. Read this post to better understand a family doctor’s duty of care and what constitutes medical malpractice.

Read Article
TBI - traumatic brain injuries & personal injury law

Medical Malpractice & Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury while under the care of a medical professional, you need to determine if malpractice occurred. This article offers an in-depth look at Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) - click to read more.

Read Article
medical malpractice, personal injury, surgical mistakes

Medical Malpractice - Surgical Negligence

Surgical negligence is not to be taken lightly. We trust medical professionals to take care of us and adequately warn us of risks and complications. We expect them to operate on the correct area of our bodies, and with equipment that is in working order. We trust surgeons with our lives. Read this post to learn more.

Read Article
personal injury law and spinal cord injury

Spinal Cord Injuries & Medical Malpractice

Whether you have suffered a spinal injury as a result of a car accident, an accident at home or another cause, the impact on your and your family’s life can be devastating. When the injury occurs at the hands of a medical professional, it can be particularly devastating. Read this post to learn more.

Read Article
hamilton, ontario medical malpractice suits

Medical Malpractice - Standard of Care in Ontario

If you have sustained injuries or other complications after medical treatment and you have reason to believe that the facility or doctor played a role in your injuries, you may have a case and will need an expert medical negligence lawyer to help. Read this article to learn about the lawsuit litigation process, and know what to expect.

Read Article
Templates Library
Loading, Please wait...
The Library cannot be open, please try it again later.
This field is required.
Invalid email format.
Some of the fields are not filled or invalid.
Form Template
Select a Form Template
Available fields in the selected template: