Royal Society of Canada Calls for Decriminalization of Euthanasia

In a report released this week, a Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel proposes that assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia should be decriminalized for competent individuals who make a free and informed decision that their life is no longer worth living.

The panel concludes:

  1. That there is a moral right, grounded in autonomy, for competent and informed individuals who have decided after careful consideration of the relevant facts, that their continuing life is not worth living, to non-interference with requests for assistance with suicide or voluntary euthanasia.
  2. That none of the grounds for denying individuals the enjoyment of their moral rights applies in the case of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. There are no third-party interests, self-regarding duties, or duties toward objective goods that warrant denying people the right to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. Prophesied undesirable social consequences are not sufficient to negate the right to choose assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.
  3. That health care professionals are not duty-bound to accede to the request of competent and informed individuals who have formulated the uncoerced wish to die, but they may do so. If their religious or moral conscience prevents them from doing so, they are duty bound to refer their patients to a health care professional who will.

The report examined the experience of foreign jurisdictions where assisted dying has been allowed and proposes a system modelled after countries such as the Netherlands where patients may request assisted suicide or euthanasia when a doctor has determined they are competent to make the decision, and have done so voluntarily.

The panel also urges provincial governments to create policies to make clear the circumstances under which Crown prosecutors will not proceed with charges (that is, where there has been a free and informed decision to request assistance to die made by a competent individual).

More background:

  • In 1995, the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, published its final report, Of Life and Death. The report has sections on terminology, palliative care, pain control and sedation practices, withdrawal/withholding of life-saving treatment, assisted suicide and euthanasia.
  • Late last year, the Library of Parliament published an update to a paper on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada
  • Earlier this year, the Library of Parliament updated its research publication on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: International Experiences that looked at the debates and experiences of the US, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia and a number of other countries
  • The Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax provides access to material on a number of end of life topics in its Reading Room
  • Slaw’s Yosie Saint-Cyr wrote a post on September 9, 2010 entitled Euthanasia Subject of Renewed Debate that discussed the public hearings on euthanasia and assisted suicide in front of Quebec’s National Assembly. In that post, she also discussed Canadian case law going back to the early 1990s.

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