Prof Harvey Max Chochinov, OC OM MD PhD FRCP(C), is Canada Research Chair in Palliative Care; Director, Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit; Chair, Canadian Virtual Hospice; and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba
Prof Balfour M. Mount, OC QC MD FRCP(C), is Eric M. Flanders Professor Emeritus of Palliative Medicine, McGill University
On October 15th, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal by the BC Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide. Given that impending ruling, the recent passing of Bill 52 in Quebec (legalizing euthanasia or what is euphemistically being called Medical Aid in Dying [MAD]) and rumblings from parliament of yet another private members bill on assisted suicide, Canada is clearly at a crossroads on this issue. The Court faces a daunting task. Where rhetoric ends, the war of what the data say begins; with each side invoking elements of empirical evidence that happen to support their particular argument. Add fear of death, dread of the process of dying—and our societal aversion to discuss these issues—and one begins to appreciate what the court is up against.
First and foremost, the Court must consider how people in this country die and whether their decision will move us toward improving care for the terminally ill. Dying in Canada can be a scary prospect. According to a parliamentary report from 2000, the vast majority of Canadians of all ages do not have access to comprehensive, quality palliative care. ...continue reading