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A Defence lawyer's perspective on issues in criminal law
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Calgary Case Sets Precedent for Compassionate End of Life
Tagged Criminal Defence BlogMarch 10, 2016
The main role of the government, as I see it, is to ensure we have freedom—to make sure that we can live the way we want to live without interference by others, limited only to the extent that our lives might interfere with others.
We should be able to behave however we want to behave so long as it doesn't harm someone else's person or property, and so long as it doesn't prevent them from living the way they want to live.
In situations where someone tramples on someone else's freedom, it's the government's job to intervene, and in cases where it isn't clear where one person's freedom begins and another person's ends, it's the government's job to sort it out and draw the line, sometimes on a case-by-case basis but ideally through laws that can be appropriately interpreted and applied to provide fair outcomes in future cases).
For years, one of these supposedly uncertain areas was the right to die with dignity—the right to end your own life when deteriorating health created an irreversible condition of pain and/or loss of control. While other countries have had legislation protecting physician-assisted deaths for years, the countries on our continent have been slow to catch up.
Thanks to a recent ruling by Canada's Supreme Court, new legislation enacted in Quebec, and now a case settled in Calgary, things are starting to change.
The woman at the center of the case decided last week by Alberta's Court of the Queen's Bench had been diagnosed with ALS in 2013, and at this point was almost totally paralyzed. She was given a clean bill of mental health, and expressed quite clearly her desire to pass away peacefully and under her own power rather than waiting for the disease to literally choke the last of her life from her—something doctors predicted would occur approximately six months from now.
The landmark decision allowing her to die, which comes without legislation from either the Albertan or Canadian government but which relied on the precedent set by the Supreme Court, means we are likely to see this right quickly extend not only in principle but in practical fact across all provinces, with courts acting faster than legislative bodies for the good of the people.
There are, of course, opponents to physician assisted deaths, including some with a legitimate concern that some suffering from certain disabilities might be improperly coerced or pressured into an early death that is not truly in their best interests. This case demonstrates the care taken by the medical and the judicial community in evaluating individual cases to make determinations, however, and suggests safeguard that can be written into law so the people of Canada know exactly what their rights are when it comes to end of life decisions.
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