As promised, my much-anticipated, post-holiday season take on assisted suicide:
In brief: if suicide is legal then it's a gross violation of fundamental human rights to not allow people the option of assisted suicide.
Now, to be clear at the outset, what I am talking about here is only assisted suicide (i.e., helping a mentally competent person to end his or her life by request in order to end suffering). I'll save debates about other forms of euthanasia for another fun day.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the debate around the legalization/decriminalization of assisted suicide is that it's the only situation in which you'll find most disability advocates arguing against the accommodation of people with disabilities. This position is not only hypocritical and illogical but also a profound tragedy. The inability/unwillingness of disability advocates to distinguish between assisted suicide and the broader notion of "euthanasia" and the more controversial forms of death it encompasses denies a vocal, effective advocacy group to individuals who desire to have suicide as an end-of-life option.
There is also a tendency within the disability community to further mix end-of-life issues in with concepts of eugenics and to conflate it all as one big "slippery slope". As in: if we allow competent people to request assistance in ending their own lives then we'll be forced to permit doctors/the government/etc. to murder people who limp or lisp. Again, not supported by logic nor helpful to a proper debate/discourse. The experience of the Netherlands and other countries shows clearly that it is possible to draw strict lines around was is, and is not, acceptable. Putting a toe on the slope does not mean you will always slip right to the bottom.
Interestingly, Canada recently ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This, much-lauded by disability advocates, international human rights instrument is intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities, and to ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. Although, in theory, Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects these same rights, the Sue Rodriguez case saw the Supreme Court of Canada finding that the (acknowledged) violation of her Section 15 rights was justifiable in a "free and democratic society" by relying on the good old slippery slope argument.
Given the ratification of the Convention, and the fact that Beverly McLachlin who dissented in the Rodriguez decision is currently the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it will be interesting to see if a new assisted suicide case would reach a different conclusion. However, because of the common law "requirement" that judges reach conclusions that are consistent with previous decisions (aka stare decisis), a successful case will likely have to take a significantly different angle from the one taken by Sue Rodriguez.
Recently, The Walrus had an interesting article arguing that what the pro-assisted suicide camp really needs is a Henry Morgentaler. An individual (likely/ideally a doctor but not necessarily) willing to come forward and argue that they are morally obligated to assist, upon request, a competent individual commit the suicide that, by the nature of their disability/incapacity, they are unable to perform themselves. However, one problem with co-opting this approach is that, while Morgentaler was able to argue that he as a doctor was morally obligated to provide abortions, making a parallel argument is not as tidy for assisted suicide.
In essence, Morgentaler argued that his doctorly duty to safeguard the life and health of the women who came to him outweighed his duty to obey the law. This argument is not so easily made with assisted suicide as people tend to get caught up in the whole Hippocratic/10 Commandments "Thou Shall Not Kill" line of thought. With abortion, you can at least argue that by ending one life safely, you save the other. Typically, there's no other life to be saved when you commit suicide. As well, the victims of botched "backstreet" assisted suicides are simply not walking around with unique health problems creating statistics. Yet.
The other issue (and here's where I get particularly cynical, or realistic, depending on your point of view) is that Morgentaler was also able to benefit financially from his stance. As a result of public hospitals and doctors being unwilling/unable to perform abortions, private abortion clinics filled a user-pays niche market in Canada. And unhappily-pregnant women were/are definitely willing to pay. To be clear, I have no doubt he was at least in part motivated by altruism but it doesn't hurt that he had the money to pay his legal bills. To date, there's been no identified parallel market gap for assisted suicide. Or at least not one anyone is willing talking about. Yet.
And now we come to the "yets": I strongly suspect that another interesting sociological change we'll see as a result of the aging Boomers is the legalization of assisted suicide.
Boomers are a large, loud group used to getting what they want, when they want it and they're often willing to pay for it (or complain very loudly until someone else does). They're also experiencing increasing rates of disability related to aging, obesity and autoimmune disorders. Just try to tell the Boomers that they're not allowed to pick the timing and manner of their deaths. If Canada tells them no, they'll simply find/create a black market or go to another more entrepreneurial country with less stringent laws. The recent interest around the "liberation" treatment for MS is an excellent example of the lengths people will go to get what they want. Regardless of laws or risks.
Anyway, for what it's worth, that's pretty much my perspective. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.