We can hope that as more and more tragic cases emerge in Canada, public pressure may begin to force legislators to take action to restrict access to assisted suicide. But once a change like this happens, it’s hard to ever imagine it being fully reversed. The underlying logic of a “right” to assisted suicide, and the view of human dignity it affirms, ultimately undermines the value of certain lives and certain standards of living. It suggests that certain people lead lives that are less valuable. We should reject this view and affirm the sanctity of all human life, and we should seek to build a society and culture premised on this.
Canada is widely seen as one of the world’s most progressive nations in the world, “leading the way” (depending on where you stand) on a variety of social issues. But in recent months, Canada has been garnering some less than savoury international attention because of the dark side of one of its recent progressive accomplishments, namely the assisted suicide regime that has been created since the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions on assisted suicide in 2015. The tragic situation that has developed in Canada offers a warning to other countries considering going down a similar path, both to be cautious about opening the assisted suicide floodgates and about empowering judges to decide whether such things should be allowed.
When Canada’s enlightened judicial philosopher kings and queens overturned criminal prohibitions on assisted suicide in Carter v. Canada, they overturned their own precedent. In 1993, a majority of the Supreme Court found that the criminal code provisions that prohibited assisted suicide did not ultimately violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 2015, the Court changed its mind. The law didn’t change, of course, but the court decided that “the matrix of legislative and social facts” surrounding the case had changed. Thus the interpretation of constitutional rights must change with them.