When the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the complainant in the Carter versus Canada court case on Feb. 6, it changed the face of Canadian democracy.
The Supreme Court justices unanimously struck down the federal government’s ban on providing a doctor-assisted death for mentally competent, but suffering and “irremediable” patients.
The Supreme Court justices ruled the federal government cannot use its criminal law process to restrict a patient’s choice to have doctor-assisted death.
They also noted Parliament and provincial legislatures may, if they choose to, enact legislation to regulate doctor-assisted death, as long as they respect the Charter rights of Canadians wanting to access the physician service.
It’s important to note the justices didn’t impose a requirement for senior governments to pass legislation, but rather suspended the effect of the federal government’s law for 12 months.
There has been a lot of reaction to the ruling.
Those who have, or have had, family members suffering from irremediable disease rejoiced at the ability of loved ones to have the choice to end the pain and suffering so they can die with dignity.
Pro-life groups – including religious leaders – voiced their disapproval of the decision.
Even prior to the decision, they warned doctor-assisted death ran counter to the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath of not administering a lethal drug to someone who asked for it, or suggesting it.
Other groups noted the most vulnerable in our society have lost the protection of the Criminal Code of Canada. They are concerned the ruling encourages the disabled, infirm and those suffering through dementia to consider “euthanasia.”
However, the Supreme Court noted that legislation with properly designed and administered safeguards would protect vulnerable people from abuse and error.
Undoubtedly, this is a hot potato for the federal Conservative government and one Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t want to become an election issue this year.
It’s likely none of the political parties would want the ruling to become an election issue because it will not only cause a rift in each of the parties, it’s also likely Canadians will be split on the pros and cons.
This ruling will likely be a topic of conversation in the homes of the Baby Boomer generation across the country.
The boomers should be having conversations with their aging parents about their ongoing care and now they have to talk about end-of-life options.
During these conversations, the boomers will likely have this newest option in the back of their minds, as they consider their wishes as they grow older.