EDITORIAL: Debating the right to die

Federal government will have to come up with regulations by February of next year

The highest court in the land ruled unanimously this year that people who face intolerable suffering from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” have a constitutional right to doctor-assisted suicide.

The Supreme Court of Canada gave federal politicians until Feb. 6, 2016 to regulate the practice. The court’s decision overturned a previous ban.

We are focussing on issues in our coverage of the federal election. In a region that is home to the oldest population in Canada, physician-assisted suicide is certainly a relevant topic.

It’s also divisive and difficult to discuss.

Reporter Candace Wu presents a story today in our Thursday Spotlight (page A5) with the comments of candidates trying to win the Courtenay-Alberni seat in the House of Commons in the Oct. 19 vote.

We do not envy physicians who have to help patients through this type of decision.

The Hippocratic Oath physicians take, in part, reads:

“I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

According to a story in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Canadian doctors remain deeply divided over whether and how to provide medical aid in dying, and what is required of those who refuse to assist in ending a patient’s life.”

The CMA did a survey of its members this year regarding this subject and received 1,407 responses. The results were presented at their general council in Halifax on Aug. 25.

The results suggested many doctors remain opposed to assisting a patient’s suicide. Only 29 per cent of this surveyed said they would consider providing medical aid in dying if requested by a patient —  63 per cent would refuse outright and eight per cent were undecided.

Like so many things in today’s society, this issue is destined to spend more time in courtrooms. Clearly, most doctors are not comfortable with physician-assisted suicide. However, it’s the law of the land, with details about that legislation expected in February.

Like the debate about publicly-funded access to abortions, physician-assisted suicide elicits passionate discussion, and sometimes worse.

If they don’t know already, this issue shows those who are seeking a seat in the House of Commons that being an MP often requires painful, soul-searching decisions that will upset a large portion of the electorate.

— Editorial by John Harding

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