Assisted Dying Still Criminal in Calgary and Canada...For Now

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Assisted Dying Still Criminal in Calgary and Canada...For Now

Last year, Canada's Supreme Court told the federal government that it needed to come up with assisted dying legislation—a law that would allow Canadian adults with chronic and intolerable illnesses to take charge of their own end of life plans, and to leave this world on their own terms, with dignity and without years of prolonged pain and declining quality of life and capabilities.

Last week, the Supreme Court acquiesced to a request by the federal government to extend the deadline for this legislation to be put in place, giving Trudeau's administration and the current parliament four more months to put a law into place to protect what the Supreme Court ruled was a basic human right: the right to die when death was inevitable and life too painful to bear.

So even though the highest interpreter of the law throughout all of Canada has determined that criminalizing assisted deaths—also called "assisted suicides," though that term is frowned upon by many due to its negative connotations—is a direct violation of basic human rights, and even though it gave the federal government a full year to develop legislation to that end, no move has been made and no one in Calgary or anywhere else in Canada can legally be assisted to their desired passing (or lend assistance to that end).

Doing either is still a crime, and a serious one at that, punishable by some serious jail time. Of course, given the Supreme Court's ruling and its recent suggestion that people be allowed to appeal to their provincial courts for relief if they're seeking an assisted death as a means of exiting a painful and debilitating disease, one could try an affirmative defence (though as a defence lawyer here in Calgary, I wouldn't recommend counting on it), but the point is they shouldn't have to.

You shouldn't need to mount a defence for something that the Supreme Court has determined shouldn't be criminal, and you shouldn't face criminal charges for attempting to secure your human rights—or compassionately helping someone else secure theirs.

Much of the blame lies with the recently-departed Harper government, which deigned not to make a move on the Supreme Court's decision despite having the mandate to do so for the bulk of the year-long window the Court set. Trudeau's government is more amenable to securing and protecting Canadians' human rights and liberties than Harper's, but this administration has been dragging its feet on this issue as well. Hopefully it will take this four-month extension by the Supreme Court seriously and actually get to work putting together a law that protects all Canadians at every span of their life.

Until then, the highly sensitive and highly personal decision of an assisted death remains an area of Canadian liberty that remains a crime under the law.

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