Bioethics Blogs

Physician Assisted Suicide: The Medicalization of Suffering and Death

Nuala Kenny discusses the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to remove the prohibition on assisted suicide.

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In a long-awaited decision for many, the Supreme Court of Canada has removed the Criminal Code prohibition on assisted suicide based on a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge. This decision was inevitable, but is one that I receive with great sadness. While physician assisted suicide is heralded as humane and compassionate care, in my view, it is an instance of technology triumphing over alternative standards of care for persons who are suffering and dying.

From my perspective, the most powerful arguments against assisted suicide and euthanasia come from the religious beliefs that life is sacred and that humans are the stewards and not the absolute masters of life. However, these views are not shared in our pluralist and secular public space. Indeed, they have been widely rejected as having any role to play in public debate. We live in a secular, death-denying, death-defying culture, dominated by the discourse of individual rights and autonomy, the medicalization of all aspects of life, and a consumer culture. This context provides the “perfect storm” of forces situating assisted suicide as a right; death as a medical act; and an obligation of doctors to participate.

The legal history of the Supreme Court’s current decision can be traced to the 1993 Supreme Court ruling in Rodriguez. In that ruling, the prohibition on assisted suicide was recognized as infringing on Rodriguez’s rights, but that infringement was deemed a “justifiable infringement”. Since that 1993 decision, there has been a relentless movement to legalize assisted suicide.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.