Physician Assisted Suicide

In my previous post, I discussed termination of life before it begins. Not death, since these terminated organisms are not technically alive (that depends on who you ask), but rather, depriving life before it begins. This topic is of great controversy, the two opposing sides fighting for either the right to life or the right to choose. Each party is heavy willed and march for their beliefs to become law. As a democratic society, we elect members to govern us the way it benefits us most. We vote for the party that better suits our needs and beliefs, and we’re certainly not willing to compromise our well-being for someone elses who doesn’t agree with us. Politicians represent the people, which makes it difficult when the people can’t come to an agreement. But how could they? The society they represent is torn between pro-life and pro-choice. Maybe they justify their actions by believing life doesn’t start until birth. Then technically there would be no wrong with “killing” something that isn’t alive, right? (kill – to cause the death of a person, animal, or other living thing). However, this is not the only tough decision politicians have to make and it certainly is not the most recent (however ongoing it is).

March 1st, 2016. 1:56 PM Eastern Standard Time. CBC releases an article of a very important woman who proceeded to change Canada’s stance on physician assisted suicide (also known as physician assisted death). Physician assisted suicide refers to a physician providing the means for death to a patient. The patient uses these elements to take their own life. Unlike euthanasia (which refers to the physician directly ending the life of a patient), the physician provides the means but does not commit the act of execution. Both euthanasia and physician assisted suicide were illegal in all provinces of Canada (except Quebec), until a woman went to court and fought for her right to death.

That Calgary woman, under the pseudonym Ms. S, was the first person in Canada (excluding Quebec) to undergo physician assisted suicide. Diagnosed in 2013 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Ms. S had contemplated taking her own life for three years before seeking a court ordered exemption for doctor-assisted death. In order for the Alberta judge to grant exemption, Ms. S had to meet 3 criteria:

  1. The patient in question must be a competent adult
  2. The condition the patient is suffering from must be terminal
  3. The patient in question must consent to the termination of their own life

Ms. S met all three criteria and a team of two doctors aided her in taking her own life. In her last moments, Ms. S clarified: “I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon.”

This historical event has since created quite a debate. Those in favour typically argue pro-choice. We have the right to do what we want, when we want, given that we are competent enough to make the decision. We have the right to end the pain and suffering that is making our life so miserable. We also have the right to seek assistance, rather than harm ourselves further trying to find the fastest way out. Those against typically argue pro-life or based on religious beliefs. God gave us our lives and it would be selfish to end it. Suicide is murder, how could you murder yourself? No one should make the decision against my life except me (given, I don’t think the last two quite understood what suicide means). Healthcare attorney Tracey Miller said:

“The two most common reasons that lead people to think about or to commit suicide, whether they are terminally ill or not, are untreated pain or depression. Given treatment for pain and depression, most patients, even those with AIDS or cancer, choose to live longer, not to kill themselves.”

While Miller’s point is quite compelling, not all pain or diseases can be treated (take Ms. S and her diagnosis of ALS). There are however, precautions in place. The criteria clearly state that a person needs to be in the right mind (capable of giving informed consent), and suffering from a terminal illness (in which case, getting better is not possible). Is it so wrong to allow someone suffering from a terminal illness the freedom of death?

Ms. S left quite a mark in Canadian history. Just three months later, on June 17th of 2016, new federal legislature came into force allowing for medical assistance in dying. Of course, there are numerous criteria that have to be met:

  1. Patient in question is eligible for health services funded by the government
  2. Patient is at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health (in the right mind)
  3. Patient is suffering from irremediable (impossible to cure) medical conditions
  4. Patient makes a voluntary request for medical assistance, not made by external coercion
  5. Patient must give informed consent

To further clarify, the patients condition must meet the following criteria to be irremediable:

  1. Condition is serious and incurable
  2. Condition is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability
  3. Condition decline causes the patient intolerable prolonged physical and psychological suffering
  4. The patients natural death has become forseeable, taking into account their medical condition

Once the patient requests medical assistance, a medical practitioner must ensure the patient meets all the criteria and that the request was made in writing, dated, and signed by the patient. Medical practitioners must also make it clear to the patient that a withdrawal from the request is possible at any moment. Once the process has been completed, the medical practitioner must wait a minimum of 10 days from the moment the request was made, to provide the assisted suicide. One final withdrawal request is asked by the medical practitioner moments before the aid is given to the patient. It is then solely in the hands of the patient to decide to go through with the suicide.

One thought on “Physician Assisted Suicide

  1. Frances says:

    An interesting read, thanks for writing this. It’s slightly different in the uk in that we recently had a vote in parliament about assisted dying i.e. A physician would actually assist with the death (not just provide with the means for suicide), for people who were physically unable (e.g. Muscular dystrophy) to do the act themselves. Here we’re my thoughts . I’m sure this subject will be hotly debated for a long time!

    Liked by 1 person

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