Physician assisted suicide: The great Canadian Euthanasia debate
A substantial majority of Canadians favours a change to the Criminal Code which would make it legally permissible, subject to careful regulation, for patients suffering from incurable physical illness to opt for either physician assisted suicide (PAS) or voluntary active euthanasia (VAE). This discussion will focus primarily on the arguments for and against decriminalizing physician assisted suicide, with special reference to the British Columbia case of Lee Carter vs. Attorney General of Canada. The aim is to critique the arguments and at the same time to describe the contours of the current Canadian debate. Both ethical and legal issues raised by PAS are clarified. Empirical evidence available from jurisdictions which have followed the regulatory route is presented and its relevance to the slippery slope argument is considered. The arguments presented by both sides are critically assessed. The conclusion suggested is that evidence of harms to vulnerable individuals or to society, consequent upon legalization, is insufficient to support continued denial of freedom to those competent adults who seek physician assistance in hastening their death.