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The Ironies of Physician-assisted Suicide

The arguments in favour of physician-assisted suicide have long puzzled me due to the ironies and lack of logic involved. This is evident in the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that “competent adults” with “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” have a right to physician-assisted suicide.


  1. The Right to Life

The basis on which the case for physician-assisted suicide is based seems tenuous at best. It is argued that seriously ill people have a right to commit suicide because the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to life and security of the person. How the right to life is transformed into a right to die is puzzling.

  1. Universal Rights

Human rights are usually considered to be universal, inalienable rights. The argument in this case seems to be that incapacitated people have a right to physician-assisted suicide because they are physically unable to do the deed themselves. But if they were able to do the deed themselves, they wouldn’t be allowed to.

Rather than this being universal, the Supreme Court seems to be saying that only some people have the right to commit suicide. Presumably law enforcement agencies, the medical system, and other government agencies will be expected to continue to expend huge efforts to prevent other people from killing themselves.

This sets the stage for future legal battles since the current ruling seems to be discriminatory. If some people have the right to commit suicide, why not everyone? And who has the authority to decide?

  1. The Vulnerable

Proponents sometimes argue that physician-assisted suicide is intended for incapacitated people who are unable to kill themselves. However, incapacitated people are also precisely the people who are unable to protect themselves. By giving doctors the authority to impose death, the court has removed the protection from these vulnerable people.

It is inevitable that “physician-assisted suicide” will be imposed on some people who do not want to die, as has happened in other countries that have allowed assisted suicide. In some countries a considerable percentage of the “assisted suicides” are “involuntary.” The result will be that old and infirm people will avoid seeking medical help, rightly fearing that the doctor might decide to kill them rather than save them. The temptation for family members to ask doctors to hurry along the demise of a wealthy relative—arguing that Aunt Suzie wants to die—will be huge.

The Supreme Court has instructed Parliament to legislate restrictions to make sure that assisted suicide occurs only in the limited circumstances it has outlined. Courts seem to focus on legal and philosophical arguments and ignore what happens in the real world as a result of court decisions. Abortion was legalized only when the “life and health” of the mother was in danger, and there were hospital committees set up, with at least two doctors on them, to make sure this was the case. The result was that almost immediately doctors began aborting more than 100,000 babies a year in Canada, a rate that has continued ever since. Once they had been given the authority to kill, doctors ignored the restrictions. They lied. And who can question their decisions since they are the ones with professional expertise?

  1. Why doctors?

Doctors are supposed to be in the business of saving lives. For centuries, the commitment to protect human life has been part of the Hippocratic oath. Therefore, it is strange and ironic to make doctors the ones to impose death. This will inevitably change the medical profession. Instead of attracting those deeply committed to saving lives, the profession will start to attract those who desire the power to inflict death.

In its decision, the Supreme Court apparently instructed Parliament to legislate conscience protections, so that doctors who are opposed to the procedure will not be required to carry out assisted suicides or make referrals to doctors who will do them. Even if such laws are passed, the restrictions will not survive a future court challenge. Once people have been given a right, it will be ruled discriminatory not to provide it. This again is demonstrated by history. Pro-life doctors and nurses were promised that they would not have to participate in abortions or refer patients to abortionists, but now they are pressured and sometimes required to do so. Once assisted suicide is an accepted part of medical practice, doctors will be required to provide it. As more pro-death people are attracted to the profession, the moral orientation of the profession will change.


  1. Why involve others?

Suicide by definition is a person killing himself or herself. Why does the Supreme Court decision then focus only on someone else doing the killing? Unless the person is totally incapacitated, why should anyone else be involved? If someone else does it, it’s not suicide.

It is significant that the arguments are not for legalizing suicide or assisted suicide but for “physician-assisted suicide.” People supposedly want to commit suicide, but they don’t want to do it themselves. Essentially, what they really want is for society—in the form of courts and the publicly funded medical system—to tell them that it is alright to commit suicide. And they want someone else to do their dirty work for them. The families of these vulnerable people also supposedly want their loved one to die. But they also don’t want to take on the responsibility and guilt themselves. They want someone else to do it. They are asking that doctors do the deed. And since we have publicly funded medical care in Canada, they want to transfer the guilt to rest of us, the nation as a whole.

When it comes down to it, people have a natural reluctance to take their own lives. Those who attempt it often draw back or seek help at the last moment. When the action is transferred to doctors, that natural barrier will be removed.


  1. What’s next?

Another irony is that the opposition to assisted suicide is mostly led by Christians, while the people who are pushing for assisted suicide mostly do not seem to express a belief in God. So, those who believe that they will go to a better place after they die refuse to hasten their journey there, while those who believe there is nothing after this life are willing to let go of it early.

The explanatory factor behind this irony is that Christians also believe that people will be judged by a holy God after they die, a God who has forbidden them to kill each other.

I can understand that someone who is suffering or incapacitated might want to die. Christians in such a position sometimes pray to “go home.” But those who advocate for physician-assisted suicide are making their appeal not to a holy God (who I believe can be trusted with this power) but to sinful human beings (who at least in some cases cannot be trusted). The proponents of assisted suicide—and the courts who agree with them—are putting people in the place of God, a very dangerous thing to do.


  1. The sacredness of Life

Perhaps the greatest irony and lack of logic is this. It is bizarre that the same courts that have ruled that it is permissible to kill incapacitated adults and unborn babies have also ruled that capital punishment is unconstitutional because it deprives criminals of the right to life. Apparently the life of serial killers and gangsters is sacred, but the life of the most vulnerable is not.

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