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Two Sides to the Assisted Suicide Debate

February 24, 2015

It was just a few days into the month of February, 2015 when one of the most controversial debates of the 21st century came to a head. When federal government lifted the ban on assisted suicide throughout Canada, millions of citizens were left to think about how such an epic change would reshape the nation’s future.

Some supporters of assisted suicide celebrated a victory, offering several opinions about how the official legislation, due one year from now, should read. Those in opposition took to media channels, publishing their concerns in newspapers and on blogsites, receiving many views and prominent headlines.

To this day, the disability community seems to have mixed emotions about the ruling; some people report feeling liberated while others express feelings of dread. This may be because assisted suicide has huge implications for people with disabilities.

On February 6, The Star wrote about who this legislation will directly affect:

… the ruling applies broadly in cases of a major illness, disease or disability that inflicts intolerable physical or psychological suffering on a patient.

Taking this explanation into consideration, the question we want to ask is this: does assisted suicide intend to liberate the disability community or does it degrade a person with disability’s right to life?

These are the two sides of the debate we need to explore. As the dust seems to be settling since the initial ruling, it is important to continue reflecting on how people in Canada’s disability community feel about assisted suicide legislation and ask what this means for the future of people with disabilities in Canada.

Pro Assisted Suicide

The official name of this court case is Carter vs. Canada. In 2011, Lee Carter was one of three plaintiffs to challenge the Criminal Code of Canada for banning assisted suicide. At the time, the criminal code stated, “Every one who … aids or abets a person to commit suicide … is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.” This concerned Lee Carter who took her mother (who suffered from severe symptoms related to Spinal Stenosis) to Switzerland so that a physician could lawfully assist with her suicide. Fear that she might be charged (in Canada) for doing something she considered right prompted Lee to change nationwide legislation.

Many people agree with Lee Carter, calling physician assisted suicide a “dignified” death. Some people who suffer from significant disability that may be the result of illness or disease require care from the people around them and medical facilities. A person who needs around-the-clock care but retains enough health to continue living, may consider this lifestyle degrading and might want to choose to die a “respectable” death.

Against Assisted Suicide

People opposed to assisted suicide do not consider it “dignified” or “respectable.” In some circumstances they have referred to it as alarming and sad. One of these advocates is executive director of the CPD (Coalition of Persons with Disabilities), Kelly White. The Telegram reports White saying, “To me it says that all persons with a serious disability in Canada can access assisted suicide, or whoever’s caring for them.” This statement does a good job summing up the fear the fills some Canadians who believe disability is not a death sentence. With the option to pursue assisted suicide options should the disability cause intolerable physiological or physical suffering, a spotlight shines on the inabilities people with disabilities struggle with rather than the unique abilities they spend years fostering.

Again, The Telegram offers an opinion about why people from the disability community are outraged by this verdict, saying:

Marie Ryan, former chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, is dismayed the word “disability” is included in the clause to begin with. “We have spent generations trying to remove disability from a medical model. This has put it right back there…”

Where do you stand on Assisted Suicide?

What took place in Canada on February 6 is the beginning of a yearlong conversation about assisted suicide. Now legislators have one year to write a law that encompasses how assisted suicide might be used in specific health-related circumstances.

In the meantime, it is important to continue talking about what assisted suicide is and how it impacts the disability community. As the debate continues to strike chords and raise emotions, we are interested to know your opinion. Where do you stand on assisted suicide? Are you for it? Are you against it?

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