Bioethics Blogs

Dangers of a Lax Assisted Death Regime

Trudo Lemmens lists a number of concerns with the recent Report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.


In 2011, the BC Civil Liberties Association, acting on behalf of two women, asked the court to recognize the right to physician-assisted death for those “who are suffering unbearably at the end of life.” Justice Smith granted such a right to those patients in “a state of advanced weakening capacities.”

In 2015, in Carter v. Canada (attorney general), the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the absolute prohibition on physician-assisted death could not be justified, but also reaffirmed the role of criminal law in protecting the vulnerable. It invited the Federal Parliament to develop “a carefully-designed” “complex regulatory regime” “imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced.”

Then, in February 2016, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying has issued a Report that recommends the opposite. It proposes transforming the Supreme Court’s vague parameters into legal criteria for access. Specifically, the Committee recommends expanding assisted dying to any medical condition (terminal or non-terminal, physical or psychological) that a patient experiences as causing enduring and intolerable suffering. It also recommends eventually expanding access from competent adults to mature minors.

The Committee rejects the need for any prior vulnerability assessment, such as the one recently recommended by a coalition of health and disability advocacy groups. It specifies that only two physicians are needed to determine that the eligibility criteria (including patient competence) are met. It doesn’t require that a psychiatrist be involved at any stage of the process, not even when requests are based on mental health conditions.

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.