Editorial: Legal changes ahead for assisted death legislation

In June of 2016 Canadians gained the right to physician assisted death — but there were caveats.

In June 2016, Canadians gained the right to physician-assisted death – but there were caveats.

Quite rightly, people choosing to go this route had to be in their right mind. More controversially, they had to be near death, or their death had to be “reasonably foreseeable.” This second condition left a lot of people who wanted to end their lives for a variety of reasons, including great and ongoing physical pain and the prospect of a massive cognitive decline, out in the cold with no recourse.

But a ruling in September by the Superior Court of Quebec challenged the near-death requirement and has now forced the federal government to change the law. What those changes will look like is something all Canadians had an opportunity to have their say on. (An online questionnaire was available until the end of January.)

The law as it stands now is particularly unfair for those who contract Alzheimer’s, other dementias or other diseases that involve cognitive decline, but may see people live for many years in deteriorating conditions. Right now, because they may still have many years left physically, their death is not considered “reasonably foreseeable” and therefore they do not qualify. But as their illness takes its course, they become ineligible by the time their death is imminent because they are no longer mentally fit. And advance directives are not currently allowed.

It is good that the Quebec case has given us another chance to consider some of these circumstances that have arisen.

We do, of course, have to protect the vulnerable from being pressured into consenting to something they don’t want, something that is in all ways final.

But we also need to protect those who want to have the choice to end their lives in a dignified way while they still have their mental faculties, and are not in so much pain that lives have become an intolerable burden.

The amended law must walk this line better than the current one does. We, the people of Canada, are being given the option to make sure of it.

– Black Press Media

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