06.23.2012 12:00 AM

In Sunday’s Sun today: dying to die

VANCOUVER – Cementing its reputation as the place where wild-eyed legal decisions are given the fullest possible expression, a British Columbia court last week decided to turn Canadian law on its head.
Matters of life and death, too.

As you may have heard, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled laws prohibiting assisted suicide were “discriminatory,” and gave an ailing B.C. woman the green light to kill herself with the help of her doctors.

Everyone else looking to kill themselves, however, will have to wait a year. Smith decided to give Parliament
12 months to get its laws in congruence with, you know, her view of things.

A 64-year-old Okanagan Valley resident, Gloria Taylor, suffering from ALS, was given a “constitutional exemption” from the law, which came as a surprise to those of us who laboured under the view that the Constitution did not permit “exemptions.”

Getting in on the polling business, the B.C. judge proclaimed there existed “a strong societal consensus about the extremely high value of human life, (but) public opinion is divided regarding physician-assisted death.”

Actually, it isn’t. Surveys, such as they are, tell us Canadians overwhelmingly favour “assisted suicide” — which is The Mother of All Oxymorons, if you ask me — and, based on how leading Ottawa journalists (Andrew Coyne, Paul Wells, et al.) recently mocked the fate of Jun Lin, the alleged victim of Luka Magnotta, I wouldn’t necessarily agree we place “extremely high value on human life,” either.


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    Dennis Hollingsworth says:

    WARREN KINSELLA … YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL TO & FOR ME … Blogging across the West of this Great Nation … what is this … Your Third Tour In 2012, So Far !?!


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    Tiger says:

    Agree with you, Warren — I really don’t like the assisted suicide movement. Leads to some not-so-nice incentives.

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    Brammer says:

    Absolutely – checks and balances are needed to avoid the “incentives” noted by Tiger but right to determine your own departure from this ball of mud should not be illegal.

    Having recently watched a family member succumb to cancer on terms not of their own choosing, I support Smith’s decision 100%.

    When a conscious and coherent person looks you in the eye and tells you they do not want to endure the pain and want to go quickly, who am I, or you, to impose our concept of morality on them?

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      Tim Sullivan says:

      Who ever promised that our demise, our end, is of our own choosing?

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        kenn2 says:

        Who says it cannot be of our own choosing? Who decrees that the pain and suffering of an incurable illness must be endured at any cost? I do know the most common answer, and wonder if you and Warren will cop to it, or if you have other arguments?

        Anyway, cat’s outta the bag. The fact that we can now keep many hopelessly ill people technically “alive” for indefinitely long periods means that the choice of extending or ending a life has in many cases already passed from His Hands to ours, and we need to step up.

        Having twice now been part of consultation regarding the continuation or withdrawal of further treatment, and observing the process and the final hours… there really is no sharp divide between active or passive assist any more (except in the eyes of lawyers). A morphine overload or ventilator shutdown is as active as a gunshot.

        I think that the law must catch up with what is already common in end-of-life care. I do not currently fear that this is a slippery-slope to wide-open suicide assistance. Should I?

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        kenn2 says:

        (and despite the remarkable similarity of my post above and Anon’s below… I’m not Anon)

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    Dan says:

    It doesn’t matter so much what you would want for yourself. I’m not exactly comfortable with it either. But in a free society, people are allowed to do what they want with their bodies, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

    People make living wills all the time, giving other people instructions if they’re incapacitated. This is just an extension of someone’s right over their own person.

    If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. If you want to go down fighting for every last inch of life, even if that consists of staring blankly at everyone while you shit yourself in agonizing pain, that’s your choice and not anyone else’s.

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    Jeff says:

    I’m sure there’s a simple answer to this, but it’s escaping me at the moment.

    How do you square support for abortion — on the basis the individual’s right to control her own body — with opposition to assisted suicide — which proponents argue for on the basis the individual’s right to control her own body?

    Typically, the fetus is taken to not yet constitute a separate, viable, individual, and so doesn’t factor in the equation. And doesn’t get a say… which may be a problem.
    Typically, the suffering person seeking assisted suicide is conscious, coherent, and has repeated stated in no uncertain terms a desire to die. Why should that fully formed individual be denied a say?

    Aside from ‘slippery slope’ arguments, what’s the difference?
    I don’t think ‘respect for life’, in the abstract, qualifies, because if it did, it’d pose a problem for your support of abortion.

    I respect the notion behind, “I am a doctor. I went to school to save lives, not end them.” But it doesn’t answer “You’re a doctor. Did you go to school to prolong endless, unendurable suffering?”

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      Tim Sullivan says:

      There is a difference between active and passive assistance.

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      Jeff says:

      When I posted on this, it was a serious question but not a personal one. Now, a month later, my father is suddenly dying of cancer. When it was discovered, it was already advanced, extensive, aggressive, and inoperable. He was given a couple of weeks to a couple of months. By the time his appointment rolled around with the oncologist, he was already too weak for chemotherapy… and in so much pain that I nearly had to carry him to the car. We’re still waiting on an appointment with the radiologist for palliative treatment of one particularly large tumor. We are not holding our breath.

      The palliative care doctor he’s now seeing has been wonderful; my father’s pain is much reduced, and his mental and spiritual condition much improved. A week ago, I asked Dad if he needed anything. He answered: “A shotgun.” This week, when I ask, his answer is: “A beer.” And despite the improvement, Dad’s take: anyone opposed to euthanasia should have to go through the same suffering he’s now enduring… and the worse that is to come.

      There’s nothing to be done to cure my father… maybe if the docs who months ago diagnosed him as having an ulcer, without conducting an examination… without so much as feeling his stomach… but no, not now.
      There’s nothing to be done to extend his life, now that the wait for chemotherapy proved too long, and a radiation consultation is still two weeks in the future.
      There is nothing to be done, but gather, say our farewells, wait, and watch.

      I brought my daughter halfway around the world so that she’ll have a little more time with Grandpa… hopefully enough to form a lasting memory in the mind of a three-year old. Brought her to help lighten a not-so-old man’s heart, and to brighten her Grandma’s difficult days. I wonder if I’ll have to send her away before this is done, if the suffering becomes too great. I wonder how many more god-awful days my father will have when the new drugs are no longer enough.

      Dying this young isn’t right, but there’s nothing to be done.
      Dying this way is wrong, and it’s unnecessary.
      Tell me, why. Why does my father have to endure this?

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    Anon says:

    Dan: “It doesn’t matter so much what you would want for yourself. I’m not exactly comfortable with it either. But in a free society, people are allowed to do what they want with their bodies, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.”

    I agree. The harm principle should be the test of any state intervention in the decisions of an individual. Morally speaking, I have no objection. Freedom is our highest good.

    As public policy, however, things do get complicated. But really, are they any more complicated than abortion?

    Which in itself isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

    I dunno. In the best of all possible worlds, individuals would, free of economic concerns, cheerfully choose their way of dying. Doctors wouldn’t be forced to accommodate them, reluctant members of society wouldn’t be forced to pay for it, and lions and lambs would lie down peaceably in the tall green grass together.

    But here we are.

    I’ve been through two very tough family deaths this year. Both involved the conscious rejection of ‘heroic measures.’ Both involved a great deal of suffering. Both involved the generous use of opiates (something that seems to me to render the distinction between palliative care and bringing on death somewhat fuzzy). In both cases, I am confident that the right thing was done. I have no regrets, and would be mad as hell to think that the decisions made, might, under any circumstances, be subject to legal repercussions.

    Mad because ultimately, it is not the state’s business how and when and why any of us die. At least, it isn’t under most ‘normal’ circumstances. Thus lines need to be drawn, distinctions made.

    Modern medicine prolongs life in ways it did not even a generation ago, and I think we die differently now. Living longer means (and this is based on my own limited empirical experience) more degenerative diseases, more lingering and painful deaths.

    So bottom line, I guess I am happy for Gloria Taylor. This decision is going to stir things up, and might have negative policy repercussions. But maybe that’s just the reality of facing up to our achievements in prolonging life.

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    smelter rat says:

    If I had ALS I would want to be the one who decides when it’s time to shuffle off.

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      Byron says:


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      JamesHalifax says:

      Thank God that Stephen Hawking didn’t decide to pull the plug, or give someone else the power to do it for him. If Hawking had been in the Netherlands instead of the UK….he most likely would have been “killed off” quite some time ago to save the taxpayers a few bucks.

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        Torgo says:

        Any evidence/citations to back up this assertion?

        (Also, This just seems like a parroting of the pro-life ‘you-just-aborted Beethoven’ meme. Funny how no one ever then wonders whether or not it then would have been good to abort Hitler or Clifford Olson.)

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        smelter rat says:

        Another ridiculous argument, James.

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        Tim Sullivan says:

        I know, eh JamesHalifax. IF Hawking was on life support, and IF someone had the authority to pull the plug, and iIF he lived in the Netherlands, he would most likely have been killed off. Can’t argue at all with any of that.

        Why don’t these idiot Liberals just see that if all these ifs were iss, you’d be so right, like, all the time on each one.

        As an atheist you say you are, I like how you put an upper case “G” on god … is that an atheist God you’re thanking?

        Now, if Superman was really allergic to Kryptonite …

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    Anne Peterson says:

    What about freedom and personal choice.

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    JamesHalifax says:

    This is what happens when Judges start believing their own hype. This is a perfect example of “judge made law” that created the need for the notwithstanding clause. Frankly, that clause needs to be used more often.

    That being said, I’m all for personal choice in one’s own decision, however, most people who want to die are requesting it to provide relief from the constant pain and suffering of an illness, usually cancer. I think we need a better program of pain relief for these people, as simply giving a substance that takes a life diminishes us as a whole.
    Now, what about the legal repercussions of having your life taken willfully? If I were an insurance company, one of the first things I would put into any future policies would be a strict exemption about taking your own life, or having someone else do it for you. If you decide Grandma isn’t worth keeping around any more because she’s burning through your inheritance….too bad. No insurance payout either.

    This is definitely a slippery slope. I’m sure Warren’s seen the ads about what the assisted suicide program in the Netherlands has morphed into. They even let depressed teens kill themselves, or sick babies (who you KNOW did not ask for it).

    Not good for Canada. We’re turning into a country that does not appreciate life……and it is always coming from judges, not the people.


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      kenn2 says:

      Data from the last decade, after the “legal limbo” state of euthanasia in the Nederlands was finally reviewed and codified into law in 2002 indicate that the current program is well-managed and there’s no further evidence of a slippery slope.

      We have to speak openly about what is currently being done in Canadian hospitals, and how we feel about this as a society. That includes the courts. To officially say “NO!” but let current practice continue under the radar is the most dangerous course.

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      Tim Sullivan says:

      You know so much stuff, JamesHalifax.

      You know we live in a common law jurisdiction, which is judge-made law. You know something about contracts. You know where it says in “The Contracts Act” where it addresses offer and acceptance with consideration.

      No, wait, contracts are judge-made. THERE IS NO CONTRACTS ACT. For those who don’t like judges making making law, go to Quebec, or better yet, Somalia. I hear that’s a libertarian paradise.

      You know “If I were an insurance company …” you would you be a minute book, eh? You know there are no life insurance policies that prohibit collection on suicide (only a qualification delay from signing). You know there are rules about who can collect on an insurance policy when the beneficiary is the perpetrator. You know those are judge-made rules, eh.

      I know. You’re smart. You know lots of stuff.

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