by Neil Pierce
In February 2015, the Supreme Court made a historic decision to lift Canada’s ban on physician-assisted suicide. With this decision, the Supreme Court has sent a clear and strong message that physician-assisted suicide must be permitted for a carefully defined subset of Canadians. The Supreme Court has given our federal government one year to draft the legislation.
At the MS Society, we first and foremost respect the autonomy and ability of people living with MS and their families to make their own choices about their lives. From now until October 11, you can participate in an online consultation on physician-assisted suicide, which is part of a larger network of consultations with medical authorities and others with an interest in this area. The panel will then provide a final report to the ministers of justice and health that outlines options for the regulation. You can read our full news release here.
To help clarify this complex issue, we have developed a discussion framework document about the future legislation of physician-assisted suicide in Canada. While the paper is not meant to be comprehensive, the document aims to promote discussion and consideration of this topic, which may provide insights and resources for further exploration. You may also refer to our Living with Dignity position statement that is referenced in the document.
Not only is it important to participate in these consultations, but we should also be talking about how to better coordinate lifelong care for people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses such as MS. I see physician-assisted suicide as a topic that is ultimately linked to quality of life; our government has a responsibility to provide holistic care for people living with MS at all stages of their disease.
Whether it’s access to home care, long-term hospice care, or end-of-life care, people living with MS need equitable access to a continuum of appropriate, high-quality supports throughout their lives. This means that our post-election government needs to invest in comprehensive support systems for people with long-term, chronic health conditions such as MS. In our ideal world, such quality of life supports would serve to round out the freedom of choice that is so essential when discussing the issue of physician-assisted suicide.
It is a heartbreaking reality that some people live with forms of progressive MS so severe that they may consider ending their lives—which also reinforces the urgent need for advancement in progressive MS research. For some Canadians living with MS and their loved ones, physician-assisted suicide is a deeply personal issue.
I encourage you to read the discussion document and participate in the consultations to ensure your voice is heard.