EDITORIAL: Coming to grips with a life-and-death decision

Expect an appeal of a decision against the law forbidding physician-assisted suicide in Canada.

Expect an appeal of a decision against the law forbidding physician-assisted suicide in Canada.

The momentous ruling Friday by B.C. Supreme Court judge Lynn Smith would likely be appealed whichever way it went.

As it is, she upheld a challenge by three plaintiffs because the law’s provisions “unjustifiably infringe the equality rights” of one of the trio as well as “the rights to life, liberty and security” of the other two.

If law is expected to mirror the values of the people to whom it applies, it’s hard to accept a continuation of the status quo.

For example, 21 per cent of respondents in a Forum Research survey of Canadians in December opposed physician-assisted suicide and 12 per cent said they had no opinion. Sixty-seven per cent said they support physician-assisted suicide.

Tell that to the B.C. and Canadian governments, whose lawyers vigourously argued for assisted suicide to remain punishable by as much as 14 years in prison.

In addition to the religious beliefs that are at the heart of much of the opposition are other legitimate considerations.

Would legalizing or decriminalizing doctor-assisted suicide result in abuse of the aged and vulnerable? Would the decision cause a “slippery slope” that would lead to other rulings that could undermine the sanctity of life? Those are only two valid concerns.

In spite of astounding medical advances, people still die agonizing deaths from afflictions such as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, with no hope of cure or much relief.

Should society legally or morally have the right to tell you or a loved one in this frightful predicament that — in spite of being informed, mentally competent and not coerced — that you must continue to suffer against your wishes?

The judge wisely gave governments a year before her ruling takes effect. May they use the time to wrestle honestly and fairly with this weighty matter that no doubt gave Justice Smith some sleepless nights.