The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the ban on assisted suicide. Our highest court has decided that we should have the right to ask our doctor for help to die. This gives us an option other than having the medical system actively trying to keep us alive against all odds or passively waiting for death to occur eventually on its own.
The desire to die commonly follows unbearable pain and discomfort, coupled with a sense of hopelessness. Often, one knows physical death is imminent anyway. But there are some unanswered questions about when, how, and who exactly can request and access help to die.
According a Globe and Mail report on the ruling, the decision says this option should be available to an adult who “clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”
What jumps out at me is the term “intolerable.” Maybe some of us will one day experience death that is relatively quick or tolerable, at the very least. But the slow, intolerable death of a human being is a tragedy that no one should be forced to experience at the end of their life.
I wrote about Toronto’s Dr. Donald Low who experienced a lingering death from a brain tumour. He made a famous video in which he said: “What worries me is how I’m going to die. What the end is going to look like. […] Why make people suffer for no reason when there’s an alternative?”
Clearly there are many grey areas here but I think we are moving forward as a society when we are able to look at this type of upsetting issue and ultimately give people more agency in decisions about their life and death.