Daylife/AP Photo used by permission
Gloria Taylor, a Canadian, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Over a period of a few years, her muscles will weaken until she can no longer walk, use her hands, chew, swallow, speak, and ultimately, breathe. Then she will die. Taylor does not want to go through all of that. She wants to die at a time of her own choosing.
Suicide is not a crime in Canada, so, as Taylor put it: “I simply cannot understand why the law holds that the able-bodied who are terminally ill are allowed to shoot themselves when they have had enough because they are able to hold a gun steady, but because my illness affects my ability to move and control my body, I cannot be allowed compassionate help to allow me to commit an equivalent act using lethal medication.”
Taylor sees the law as offering her a cruel choice: either end her life when she still finds it enjoyable, but is capable of killing herself, or give up the right that others have to end their lives when they choose. She went to court, arguing that the provisions of the Criminal Code that prevent her from receiving assistance in dying are inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…
Last month, Justice Lynn Smith issued her judgment. The case, Carter v. Canada, could serve as a textbook on the facts, law, and ethics of assistance in dying.
…She considers, and accepts, an argument advanced by Wayne Sumner, a distinguished Canadian philosopher: if the patient’s circumstances are such that suicide would be ethically permissible were the patient able to do it, then it is also ethically permissible for the physician to provide the means for the patient to do it…
Smith then declared, after considering the applicable law, that the provisions of the Criminal Code preventing physician assistance in dying violate disabled people’s right not only to equality, but also to life, liberty, and security…
Of course, the decision will be appealed. Not only religious organizations which feel they have the final say about people’s lives; but, legitimate medical ethicists will ask for further interpretations of Canadian law.
I hope that Justice Smith’s verdict on assistance in dying will stand and another door will open to personal liberty, an individual’s right to order their own life.