Assisted voluntary euthanasia and other end of life decisions

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Executive summary

In this brief, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association first argues that the complete ban in Canada on assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia is not morally defensible. We then survey the possible options for the federal government in legislating in this area, and describe the advantages and disadvantages of various aspects of a regulatory scheme.

In Part A, we argue that there is a strong prima facie case for allowing persons who are facing intractable pain or indignities in the final stages of their lives to determine for themselves when life is no longer worth living, and, where necessary, receive assistance in ending their lives. This prima facie case is constructed from the principles of liberty, autonomy and equality; from the value of preventing unnecessary suffering and preserving the dignity of the individual; and from the inconsistency between legally allowing suicide and passive voluntary euthanasia while denying legal space to assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia. If we are to continue legally to bar these practices, there must be a compelling reason for doing so.

The BCCLA then argues that none of the reasons that have been put forward for continuing the current absolute ban on assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia is compelling. We consider separately each of these arguments, which include: the sanctity of life and the moral wrongness of killing; the possibility of an incorrect diagnosis or a miracle cure; the alleged inability to know that voluntary informed consent has been obtained; the “slippery slope” argument; and the ability of modern medicine to control pain.

Since none of the arguments against prohibiting assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia is compelling, the strong prima facie case for the legalization of these practices must prevail. We note that, although the objections are not compelling, they do raise concerns which must be addressed in making legal provision for aid in dying.

In Part B of the Brief, the BCCLA surveys the policy options available to the government in making legal space for these practices.


Read here for the Assisted Voluntary Euthanasia Position Paper