But you will anyway.

You’re terminal. In constant pain. You’ve prepared your last words and are ready to get on with dying, already. You reach over to pull your own plug and… your hand is viciously slapped away by the long arm of the law.

Who has the right to tell you when to die? According to the Canadian government, they do. Accidental death is one thing, but if there is any prior acceptance or consent associated with your death… well heck, that just ain’t gonna fly. Euthanasia, or the (consensual) painless putting-to-death of a terminally ill or severely disabled person, is illegal in Canada under sections 14 and 241 of the Criminal Code. That doesn’t necessarily stop it from occurring, but it certainly makes it more difficult, considering the potential charge of 14 years in prison for anyone who assists in the suicide of another person.

Passive euthanasia is the most commonly practiced method, and is basically the withholding of life-saving procedures. Typically this is by request of the patient, spoken directly to the doctor or else through a living will. In BC, living wills, or “representation agreements” are acknowledged to allow adults to arrange in advance all the details of their care in case they become incapable of making decisions independently. Living wills are a handy tool to prevent things like elder abuse, though family members often contest them, feeling instead that their own better intentions ought to be taken into more serious consideration. 

Active euthanasia is when an individual’s life is terminated through specific steps, most commonly through overdosing on painkillers or sleeping pills. The main difference between passive and active euthanasia is that with passive euthanasia the doctor is not actually killing the person, they are simply not saving them.

Recently the Vancouver Public Library disallowed Exit International, an Australian-based assisted-suicide organization, to hold a seminar at the downtown library. The organization planned to hold both a public discussion of the right to die movement, as well as a more exclusive (only those aged 55 or older) conference where they went over the best ways to kill oneself. It was the latter event that prompted the library to seek legal advice, and consequently cancel the whole thing. They were worried that holding an event that taught people proper methods for committing suicide would fall under section 241 of the Criminal Code, and that they would be held accountable.

What I don’t understand is what the big deal is in the first place. Do we have the right to die? Of course we do! Eventually, we are all going to die. Insisting that prolonging the dying process is the best solution for everyone is a waste of time and resources. There are plenty of people who wish to continue living that the government does not support in any way, yet as soon as the subject of death is brought up, everyone feels the need to take control of the situation.

Is it not ultimately an individual’s decision whether they live or die? We are given responsibility to live our own lives, yet the decision to end it is not ours. In holding power over the way we end our lives, the government is essentially withholding our personal freedom.

We are given the right to kill ourselves slowly through cigarettes, poor nutrition and so on, yet if we become terminally ill we aren’t allowed to cut ourselves off short in any way. It isn’t as though it’s for our own good, either. Things like seatbelt laws are for our own good, particularly as car crashes can be draining on our health care system. Euthanasia harms nobody.

The reality is that suicide happens. It is totally barbaric that the government feels entitled to leave people to their own messy devices, and even punish those who try to help, while the resources to end lives in a more effective way are available. Euthanasia ought to be legalized properly, in order for Canadians to truly have freedom over themselves.

From the M*A*S*H theme song: “Suicide is painless/ it brings on many changes/ and I can take or leave it if I please…”

//Sarah Vitet

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