So it is that a cause advanced in the name of a limitless individual freedom (self-annihilation, it is said, being the ultimate assertion of personal autonomy) defends itself with reference to how acutely limited that freedom would actually be.
Senator Nancy Ruth has introduced a bill to legalize assisted suicide, and listen to what she says in terms of how that assisted suicide must be carried out:
Let me be clear: This bill does not allow for non-voluntary ending of life. It does not allow for uninformed ending of life. And it incorporates safeguards for physicians, too. What it does is restrict requests for physician-assisted death to those who are 18 years or older, who are citizens or permanent residents of Canada at the time of the request and who have been diagnosed by a physician with an illness, disease or disability including from a traumatic injury. Their condition must cause intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person.
It also allows requests from those in a state of weakening capacities with no chance of improvement, as long as they’re of sound mind, capable of full understanding, acting voluntarily, free from coercion and undue influence. …
Let me tell you how a request for physician-assisted death must be made. The request must be in writing and signed in the presence of the assisting physician and two witnesses. Not everyone can be a witness. Those excluded from being a witness include the partner of the person making the request or other relatives or adopted children, beneficiaries of the patient’s estate, and health care workers in the health institution where the person is or has been.
Once a request has been made, two physicians, including a qualified consulting doctor independent of the assisting physician, must examine the person making the request to determine if he or she meets the conditions prescribed by the law. The assisting physician must then provide specific information to the person making the request about his or her medical prognosis, the consequences of the request and all the feasible alternatives. These should include but not be limited to comfort, palliative or hospice care and pain control.
The bill also imposes a waiting period of at least 14 days before the request can be carried out. Moreover, a request for access to physician-assisted death may be revoked at any time orally, in writing or by other means. At the time of the act, the assisting physician must record the details and explicitly ask the patient if he or she still wishes to proceed. The bill stipulates that related documents must be placed in the person’s medical record, and within 30 days the assisting physician must file a report to the provincial Minister of Health.
Coyne is spot on. So much for freedom.
But the really scary part is that in the end, no one will pay attention to Senator Ruth’s long list of “safeguards”. Legalized PAS will all too soon be seen as a human right, not to be curtailed by such limitations as age, mental ability and terminal condition. Why should such a “right” be available to only those of a certain age, certain mental capability, certain physical or psychological condition?
Here is how the debate in the Senate ended, with the Honorable Senator Anne C. Cools asking this very significant question:
I thank Senator Nancy Ruth for her work on this bill and for the deep commitment that she has made to this cause. I will ask Senator Nancy Ruth just where, in law and in the Constitution, does she or any person derive a power to take a human life? I would like to know the constitutional basis of such power. That is the first question.
Interestingly, many years ago, this country, Canada, moved, like most Western countries — let us leave the United States of America out of the scenario — in acknowledging that no human being has the power to take another human being’s life. This was demonstrated in many communities by their abolition of capital punishment, on the grounds that no human decision and no human decision-making apparatus is so perfect as to be accurate in every circumstance. The legal condition reached a point in most countries where governments, judges and juries avoided findings of guilt so as to avoid death sentences because of the lack of certainty in process.
It is very interesting that the law of our land set aside capital punishment. Now we want to create a form of capital killing.
Senator Campbell: Question!
Senator Cools: Honourable senators, I am asking Senator Nancy Ruth’s opinion on what I am saying. I would invite you to give it careful consideration as well.
I put my question to you, senator, because you have done a lot of research on this. From whence is a legal power derived to ask one man or one woman to take the life of another human being? This is very unsettled, it is an unanswered question in the history of humanity for millennia. It is the essential question that will have to be answered in this debate, the source of the power to take another human life.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Honourable senator, I’m not aware of any constitutional power to end life, nor am I aware of any constitutional power to begin life.
Senator Cools: There is a constitutional power to begin life.
The Hon. the Speaker: All the questions have been asked.
(On motion of Senator Campbell, debate adjourned.)