Gloria Taylor, an elderly woman from British Columbia, died peacefully in 2012 in a hospital bed surrounded by both a friend and family member. While her simple, dignified passing may seem mundane and common-place, this notion could not be farther from the truth. Taylor, who had been suffering from ALS – a neuromuscular disease – is to this day the only Canadian ever to be given the right to die with dignity in the country. However, this unique position may soon change, with the recent appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of physician-assisted death. This appeal aims to give consenting adults with irreversible medical conditions the right to ask a doctor for assistance in ending their lives. This advocates for what would be a positive change in Canadian policy.
‘The right to die,’ as advocates for the appeal call it, coincides with section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing the rights to their life, liberty and security. It protects a person’s independence and personal legal rights from the actions of the government. A consenting adult with irreversible illnesses, therefore, should be permitted to decide how and when they wish their life to end. If a person has a right to their life – as they should – then they should have the liberty of deciding how and when that life will end.
In making this choice it must be remembered that the patient not only chooses how and when to die, but also how they will be remembered and how they will say goodbye to the ones they love. This is not to say that all terminally ill people will choose to die, but it will give them the option they deserve to do so if they wish.
Twenty years ago, ALS sufferer Sue Rodriguez asked, “Whose body is this? Who owns my life?” She asked these questions as a plea, seeking to be given the right to own her own life and the ability to consent to its end. Now, these questions are being asked once more and the Supreme Court should respond accordingly with respect to an individual’s right to die with dignity, free of suffering. The Supreme Court should enforce Canadian values that support those who wish to die with dignity rather than those who would see the ill rendered unable to make decisions regarding the circumstances of their lives and deaths. If a person wishes to end their suffering and die in the arms of loved ones with dignity and acceptance, there is no reason why the Canadian government should continue to hold that out of their reach. All Canadians are promised this in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and I hope that soon the Supreme Court delivers on that promise.