OTHER VOICES

The choice to die

Posted April 04, 2012, at 7:13 p.m.

Whether to allow people with terminal illnesses to die at a time of their choosing with the assistance of a doctor is a thorny issue in which Canadian politicians have been reluctant to engage, even as it becomes more pressing.

Canada’s Criminal Code now makes it an offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to 14 years to counsel or assist someone to commit suicide, or to agree to be put to death.

Whether to alter those laws is a highly controversial matter, with wrenching considerations involved, and little political capital to be derived from grasping this nettle.

However, with those of the boomer generation inexorably entering their dotage years, and their minds inevitably becoming increasingly fixated on their imminent death and the manner in which it will occur, it is a matter that pleads for attention now and action in due course.

An all-party committee of the National Assembly has done the entire country a much-needed service by conducting an extensive, in-depth study of medically assisted dying. The committee devoted two years to the study and to the preparation of its report.

It is an understatement to say that there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

The committee proposed that the Quebec government enact legislation consistent with its report by next year, and refrain from prosecuting doctors who assist patients in dying so long as the proposed procedures are respected.

But the law on the matter that currently stands is a federal law, and it would be best all around if laws on the matter were consistent on all jurisdictional levels.

The Conservative federal government is reluctant to move on this issue.

But this is an issue whose time for discussion and resolution is at hand.

In light of the humanitarian considerations involved, the national government should consider it a responsibility to take the matter in hand.

The Gazette, Montreal (March 30)

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