The government of Canada has six months left to enact legislation to permit physician-assisted suicide or invoke the notwithstanding clause to delay it. Where will the moral compass direct the government to do? Photo/Public domain []

Appalling silence

  • August 27, 2015

Ontario and several other provinces are following the federal government’s lead in assembling “expert” panels to research and make recommendations during a mad dash to transform Canada into a nation that permits doctors to kill selected patients or help these patients kill themselves.

This haste to implement physician-assisted killing was sparked last February when the Supreme Court, reversing its own ruling of two decades ago, struck down Canada’s blanket ban on assisted suicide as unconstitutional. The judges gave Ottawa one year to enact legislation to permit doctor-assisted death for consenting adults afflicted by what the judges called intolerable physical or psychological suffering.

Sadly, its moral compass spinning wildly, Canada is hurtling towards a day just six months out when doctors will be allowed, maybe encouraged, to kill as well as heal, to abet what Cardinal Thomas Collins has termed a “perversion of the vocation of physicians.”

Advisory groups, such as a three-person panel of the federal government and a multi-province panel spearheaded by Ontario, are scrambling to make recommendations on the who, when, where and how of assisted suicide. Amid all this talking and polling, however, there is a profound silence in the public forum that matters most.

A shift in social policy as earth-shaking as this should be a major issue during the federal election campaign. Seldom in the life of a nation does it face such a fundamentally critical debate. Yes, jobs, security and the environment are important. But nothing is more critical than decisions about life and death itself. There is no greater issue facing Canada at this time. Yet across the campaign trail there is only a grim, appalling silence.

If this controversial issue brings out the ostrich in aspiring parliamentarians, it is up to voters to press the matter when candidates ring doorbells and hold town-hall debates. Determining which of Canada’s suffering citizens will live and which will die with doctor assistance is likely the most critical piece of business the next Parliament will face. Candidates should be compelled to address it.

Beyond learning where each candidate stands on assisted suicide and euthanasia, voters should demand to know if their next MP would: support invoking the notwithstanding clause to suspend the Supreme Court decision for five years; call for a Royal Commission to study doctor-assisted suicide; promote the narrowest interpretation possible of the Supreme Court decision; vigourously defend a doctor’s right to not only refuse to kill or help kill patients but also refuse to refer patients to doctors who condone the practice.

Citizens have a responsibility to be engaged in this critical issue through various government online forums and other public initiatives. But politicians have a duty as well. They should make their views known or be pressured to do so by voters.

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