Baby boomers won't stay silent on physician-assisted suicide
Yesterday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith's decision overturned the ban on physician-assisted suicide for Gloria Taylor.
It's a monumental victory for all the plaintiffs, including Taylor. She suffers from amytrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Another plaintiff was Lee Carter, whose mother Kay was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which leads to progressive compression of the spinal cord. In 2009, Kay Carter wanted a physician-assisted suicide, even though it was illegal at the time.
She ended up going to Switzerland with her daughter, two siblings, and Hollis Johnson, who was another one of the plaintiffs. In 2010, Kay Carter died in a clinic in that country from an assisted suicide at the age of 89.
The other plaintiffs were the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Dr. William Shoichet, a Victoria family physician, who, according to the decision, maintained that "palliative care has not always been a viable option for his patients".
Smith's decision gives Parliament a year to craft a new law on physician-assisted suicide.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association sent out a bulletin saying that Taylor, Carter, and Johnson will speak on Monday (June 18) to the media, which will keep this story in the news in the coming days.
Given the aging of the population and baby boomers' desire to retain control over their lives, it's hard to believe that the legislated ban on physician-assisted suicide will continue well into the future. This is notwithstanding opposition from the Christian Right, some disability-rights' groups, and many palliative-care physicians.
In 2010, Georgia Straight contributor Daniel Wood wrote a cover story suggesting that this could become the most contentious public issue in the coming decades.
He cited a February 2010 Angus Reid poll showing that 67 percent of Canadians and 75 percent of British Columbians support the creation of a medically regulated system of euthanasia.
"Few politicians are brave enough to say, to paraphrase Pierre Trudeau, that the state has no place at the deathbeds of the nation," Wood wrote. "Few doctors, nurses, or those involved with hospice care are prepared to risk careers saying aloud what everyone knows: assisted suicide happens—discreetly—all the time in Canada. But were it made visible by admitting that, the police might intervene. So, instead, fear and silence reign."
The fear and silence has probably diminished somewhat as a result of this week's court decision. But don't expect Smith's decision to end the debate, because this ruling is almost certainly going to be appealed by the Conservative government.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.