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CANADA/ Salvation from Medical Suicide

The Supreme Court of British Colombia declared Canada’s law preventing medically delivered suicide unconstitutional. PETER STOCKLAND comments on this decision and its consequences.

Supreme Court of Canada Supreme Court of Canada

No surprise I was in an outraged funk over the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision striking down federal laws against medically delivered suicide. The judgment was, of course, morally horrifying, intellectually fraudulent, and politically destructive of Canadians as a self-governing people.

Its transformation of our much vaunted public health care system into an instrument for delivering suicide should chill the blood of all who feel moral revulsion at the very thought of the State arranging and systematizing the deaths of citizens.

Nor should we feel warmed by the court’s fantastic assurances that supposed safeguards will prevent us sliding down the so-called “slippery slope” of ever expanding forms of medical killing. The concern is not that legalization of euthanasia and medically delivered suicide might lead us to edge of the slippery slope. Euthanasia and medically delivered suicide are the slippery slope. They are the descent.

Once we have taken the step from thinking of killing as unthinkable to considering it a normal part of medical routine, we have crossed the barrier from civilization to savagery. Any measure of how far we slide after that point is an irrelevant metric. No safeguards can save us once we are already lost.

Even if such safeguards were somehow morally supportable, they are only so much intellectual phlogiston given that the court’s decision was based, in part, on Charter equality rights. By ruling that existing full prohibitions against medically delivered suicide violate equality rights, the court is implicitly accepting that any so-called safeguards are merely diminished substitutes for the original law.

Yet if legally denying me all access to medically delivered suicide denies my equality rights, how can denying me access except under specified conditions not also be a denial of those rights? What if I don’t meet qualifying condition X? Am I not in exactly the same position I would have been under the full prohibition? Where are my equality rights then? How does giving privilege to some, rather than maintaining equal prohibition for all, do anything to advance equality?

Such jiggery-pokery puts the court in the position of 17th Century natural philosophers who imagined a substance called phlogiston to explain away processes of oxidation they could not understand. Just so, the court has invented safeguards without substance to explain away a reality it would rather not confront.

It is this judicial invention that, after alarm over loss of basic protection of life, should most deeply trouble us all. It offends the very political and constitutional order from which protection of life proceeds.