Saturday, July 14, 2012

Auditing Assisted Suicide

Even though this originally came up a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that  the status-quo prohibition of Physician-Assisted Suicide was in violation of the Constitution Act (in not one but two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). Unfortunately for you, perhaps, I chose to stay out of the matter. The date that the ruling was handed down was surprisingly close to my recent birthday, the stress of work was mounting, and wading into a topic as controversial here as abortion is in the United States wasn't high on my priority list. Fortunately, now that I'm back up to my fighting weight, I've been given a second shot because the Vancouver Sun is now reporting that Ottawa will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Better part of half a decade ago, now, I took my first formal course in Canadian Law, through my high school. The teacher was lively, and often deliberately induced class debate, particularly on issues related to the Charter specifically or to the Constitution in general. One of those issues was assisted suicide, specifically the case of Sue Rodriquez, pictured left, who won a battle in her lifetime to earn the right (it would seem temporarily) to end her life with the help of her doctor.

Now, the exact specifics of her case elude me at the moment, but I remember arguing rather vociferously that she should be allowed to do so. I used s. 7 as the cornerstone of my argument, which reads:

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
As I recall, my argument chiefly revolved around the idea of life and liberty. I argued that the only way you can have a right to do something was also to have the right to refuse it, otherwise your "right" was more of a mandate and in that case the Charter wasn't as useful a document as one would hope.

Times have changed a bit since then, however. For one thing, I no longer feel the need to come down on the liberal side of every issue on-spec. I've also learned to separate my issues and prioritize them.  In much the same way as governments in a federal system divide powers along federal, provincial, and municipal lines, I divide my opinions on law and morality. They aren't the same, but for wishing making it so. As I've written before, what is just is not always legal, what is legal is not always moral, and morality, no matter how objective we insist on it being, is subjective, and you need look no further than any argument on any moral point ever to see that.

The Catholic Church teaches that assisted suicide (what it refers to erroneously as Euthenasia in the Catechism) is morally unacceptable on the basis of  an equation to murder that is not-well cited, and before you try to point out that it DOES have some form of scriptural support, that citation simply isn't made available in the supposedly "complete and updated" version of the catechism I was given by my sponsor when I was baptised late last year.

Now, I could wrap myself up in my usual arguments: as a Heisenburg Christian (that is to say, uncategorised), I don't necessarily consider the Catechism to be binding to everyone. I could also give the "assisted suicide =/= murder" speech, on the basis of consent. I'm getting quite good at those arguments. The problem is, I can't put real conviction behind either argument. Believe it or not, at the age of 22, I don't have a solid opinion on every subject in every field any more. I miss and regret the teenage years of absolute certitude because I miss the feeling that I know everything, a feeling which went out the window at the moment I realized I didn't.

Now, am I saying assisted suicide is therefore moral? No - I just finished saying I don't have a coherent position on that particular subject. The deeper question is whether or not a ban on purely moral grounds is constitutional. As I've mentioned in previous posts on abortion, I don't believe that my morality should be allowed to set public policy guidelines. Some morality requires going above-and-beyond the call of the law - ask anyone who keeps kosher or halal, chooses to be a vegan, or chooses to dress or act in a certain way on the basis of their religious beliefs. If this was a question of politics, there would be some merit to putting my shoulder behind a party that would respect my moral views on the matter.

This isn't a question of politics, either, but the constitution. There's nothing to do now but pray, I suppose, for the mental clarity and wisdom of the Justices of the SCC. Whether you're for or against assisted suicide, I'm sure you agree that these are attributes the ultimate legal authority in this country would need in spades.

No comments:

Post a Comment