Assisted Suicide – A New Campaign in Canada

The issue of assisted suicide seemed to have been settled in Canada in 1993 by the Supreme Court decision in the case of Sue Rodriguez. In a five to four decision the Court ruled that the state’s obligation to protect the vulnerable outweighed the rights of individuals to self-determination. Now two new cases, one from British Columbia and another from Quebec, are working their way through the court system and are expected to reach the Supreme Court next year. In each case a person with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has requested the right to an assisted death.

Predictably, the Globe and Mail, the most influential national paper in Canada, and long a leading advocate of abortion and euthanasia,  has greeted these cases with an editorial  suggesting  that “Parliament could debate and pass into law principles that define a legal, doctor-assisted death. Then it could be up to the colleges of physicians in the various provinces to decide whether to include them in their codes of ethical practice. The decision could be made between a patient and a physician.” It notes that since the Rodriguez decision “assisted suicide has become legal in several jurisdictions, including Oregon, Washington, Montana, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Canadian legislators can learn by example” It goes on to argue that “It is of paramount importance, clearly, to ensure that those requesting assisted suicide are competent, and are certain of their choice. Those who sign an advanced directive should be allowed to change their minds, even if they develop dementia, and come to fiercely oppose their earlier decision. The law needs always to err on the side of life.” Despite these reservations the editorial then endorses the Dutch approach on the assumption that  the safeguards in the law are actually enforced.

In reality the Dutch experience demonstrates that all sorts of apparent protections are of little avail and that once the idea of the sanctity of life is abandoned abuses become widespread. As reported in LifeSiteNews Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, points out what actually happens: “Where euthanasia is legal, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, there are euthanasia deaths that occur without request or consent,” he said, pointing out that recent studies out of Belgium show that 32% of deaths by euthanasia were done without request or consent and that 47% of deaths by euthanasia were not reported.” As well “The most recent Dutch government study found that there were 550 deaths without request or consent and 20% of the time, the doctors that caused the death of their patients, were not reported.”





Keith Cassidy

Keith Cassidy is a member of the History department at the University of Guelph in Canada His major area is the history of the United States since 1900. His research began with studies of the Progressive Era but later moved to the abortion controversy in the U.S., with a particular focus on the history of the Right to Life movement. He has published numerous articles on this subject, and is preparing a book on the topic. He is a member of the Board of the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research ( He is married to UFL member Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy.