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Canadian laws against euthanasia should be overturned

Photo: Rcp.basheer, CC, wikimedia

Imagine watching a loved one suffer from a terminal illness each and every day and having no power to help them. No way to ease their suffering.

That is a reality for many people in Canada.

In this country, assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is illegal. Under the Criminal Code, anyone who aids or abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence worth up to 14 years in prison. Many Canadians have been vocal about their discontent with this law, so much so that the Supreme Court of Canada is currently in the process of reviewing the issue of physician-assisted suicide.

Still, euthanasia remains a divisive topic in this country.

The federal government’s main justification for enforcing this law is the fear that widespread instances of assisted suicide will somehow erode the value of human life. However, I think the refusal to grant someone who is terminally ill the opportunity to die with dignity is the bigger offence to the value of our mortal existence.

Every year, thousands have to suffer through degenerative conditions like Lou Gerhig’s disease (or ALS), which gradually chips away at a person’s muscle functions until they are barely able to speak, swallow, or breathe. Others will have to deal with conditions like congestive heart failure, which leaves the patient’s body starving for oxygen. Victims of HIV and AIDS also have to experience excruciating pain in the final stages of the disease, since their bodies literally waste away without a properly functioning immune system.

To me, that’s not what life is all about.

Life is about living each day to the fullest. Being able to wake up in the morning knowing that today is a new day with things to look forward to. Life is not about the suffering and excruciating pain that each new moment will bring.

Gloria Taylor, an ALS patient and assisted suicide advocate from British Columbia, expressed this same kind of sentiment in an interview with CBC before her death. She said: “Palliative care to me is just doping me out of my mind. I don’t know what’s going on. You call that care? If you cared about me, put me out of my misery.”

The enjoyment of life, especially in the final stages of a terminal illness, is so much more important than the number of days you are hooked up to a machine. Enjoying those final days, without being forced to suffer in a hospital bed, should be within the rights of every Canadian.

Luckily, people all over the world are finally starting to see that quality of life is so much more important than how long you stay alive.

Countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and American states like Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and New Mexico have enacted laws allowing physician-assisted death (with safeguards put in place to protect the vulnerable).

Laws regarding assisted suicide have even started to be challenged in Canada, with provinces like British Columbia and Quebec actively defying the federal government.

Hopefully, in light of this new Supreme Court case, the Canadian government will finally see which way the wind is blowing and stop equating assisted suicide with murder.