When ‘Sanctity of Life’ Includes the Right to Choose Death

Jen Pollock Michel | May 25, 2015

Earlier this year the Supreme Court of Canada legalized physician-assisted death (PAD)—a ruling that will take effect in February 2016. Overturning by unanimous decision its 1993 ruling that denied a patient’s right to die, the Court defined the “sanctity of life” to include determining one's “passage into death”—even if the patient isn’t terminally ill. Though Canadian policymakers are working to minimize potential abuses of PAD, the legal language is broadly permissive.

Of additional concern to Christian doctors in Canada is the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario’s recent vote to restrict a doctor's right to conscience protection. A revision to their Professional and Human Rights Policy now mandates that all doctors—even ones with moral and religious objections to procedures like PAD and abortion—must provide referrals to other healthcare providers.

In the United States, PAD is legal in Washington and Oregon, and there are bills before many state legislatures in favor of legalizing it. I spoke with Dr. Ewan Goligher, an intensive care physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, about the implications on both sides of the border.

Dr. Goligher, what changed in Canada's ethical landscape to make the legalization of PAD possible now?

What has shifted, both within the medical community and in society more…

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