Caleb Snider, Congress 2016 student blogger
“This is the Alps of ethics; there are slippery slopes as far as the eye can see.” I can’t think of a better way to describe the issues discussed in “The future of end-of-life decision-making in Canada,” a panel held on May 29, at Congress 2016 hosted by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and sponsored by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). The words are those of Professor Daniel Weinstock (McGill University), who along with Professor Jocelyn Downie (Dalhousie University), spoke about the future of medical assistance in dying in Canada.
Professor Downie laid out the roadmap that brought us to our current political crossroads, beginning with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Carter v Canada, which ruled for the decriminalization of medical assistance in dying in a 9-0 decision and ending with the ongoing debate over Bill C-14 in our parliament today. Professor Downie said she had originally expected to be speaking to a formulated and complete policy framework on medical assistance in dying, but couldn’t because the Government’s proposed legislation deviates from (and in some details even countermands) the Supreme Court ruling on Carter and the recommendations by expert panels. Instead, she spoke on how the bill, as it currently stands, does not comply with the ruling in several key factors, all of which will have to change before it passes into law.
Professor Weinstock, shared that he was shocked that all the preparatory work undertaken in Canada hasn’t informed the bill’s structure, including a major expert panel report commissioned by the Royal Society in 2011. Weinstock spoke to how the original report found an ethical and philosophical justification for medical assistance in dying: by looking at the fixed points that have already emerged from our democratic dialogue that guarantee us the right to be authors of their own lives and how we confront our deaths. To Professor Weinstock, the main stumbling block of Bill C-14 is its emphasis on “end of life”; why does the proximity to death give us greater cause to provide assistance in dying when the chief aim of that assistance is to alleviate suffering?
As RSC President Maryse Lassonde , the moderator of the event, put it: Professors Downie and Weinstock did an excellent job of arguing that the proposed legislation does not conform to the Supreme Court ruling in Carter. Regardless of how we might feel about the ethical and moral ramifications of medical assistance in dying, the final legislation will have to conform to the Carter decision in order fit within the canon of established law.