Editorial: A sad journey

  • March 25, 2021

With 60 “yea” votes in the Senate, Bill C-7 took its final step before becoming law on March 17, widening the expressway of death that Canada has been travelling since 2016.

Canadians who are suffering with physical illnesses or disabilities no longer have to be near a “reasonably foreseeable” natural death to end their lives via assisted suicide. In two years, those with mental illness can join the ranks.

Yes, Canada has certainly come a long way since the days when it was considered a crime to help someone commit suicide. That was just six years ago. How did we get here?

In truth, the erosion of laws protecting the sanctity of life goes back decades. One of the most defining cases concerns Sue Rodriguez, a 42-year-old B.C. woman in who was diagnosed with ALS in 1992. Discovering she only had perhaps a year a live, she challenged the illegality of assisted suicide, saying it was contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The case made its way all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada the following year, where the court ruled 5-4 against her challenge. Five months later, on Feb. 12, 1994, she ended her own life with the assistance of an anonymous doctor.

Her death re-energized the on-again, off-again political debate about euthanasia, though it was another 22 years — the Supreme Court case in 2016 (Carter v Canada) — before the Rodriguez ruling was overturned and led Parliament to change the law and make assisted suicide legal.

The Rodriguez case is tragic in so many ways. Her suffering was real and the outcome sad for everyone following her journey. Shortly after her death, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops offered condolences and issued a statement concerning their opposition to her court fight. A few excerpts bear repeating in light of the history that followed:

“To accept killing as a private matter of individual choice is to diminish respect for human life, to dull our consciences and to dehumanize society. We believe that public acceptance of physician-assisted suicide would result in undue pressure on those who are most vulnerable, particularly those who are old or sick.

“Our living together in community requires a basic trust that human life and dignity will be respected and protected. Euthanasia and assisted suicide would erode this trust and undermine the community’s commitment to the sanctity of life.

“We request that every effort be made to improve palliative care and to provide ever-improved methods of pain control for the sick and for those who are dying. Individuals, families and church communities also have a responsibility to provide tender and compassionate care to those who are suffering and in pain.”

The bishops’ words some 27 years later are an indictment of our lack of progress in taking care of our sick and vulnerable, and Bill C-7 does nothing to help the cause.

As a society, we have many reasons to pat ourselves on the back for having done much to improve Canadians’ lives. Making it easier to die isn’t one of them.

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