Mark Pickup


November 17, 2014

These are perilous times for the sick and disabled. Canada's Supreme Court is considering whether the country's law against assisted suicide discriminates against suicidal disabled people and those with incurable illnesses.

Assisted suicide advocates argue that the incurably sick and severely disabled are denied the physical ability to commit suicide that able-bodied suicidal Canadians have. This argument is so deeply flawed and ridiculous it hardly deserves comment, but I must comment: Just because someone can commit suicide does not mean they have a right to do it. There is no "right" to suicide in Canada.

If there was a right to suicide, why would Parliament unanimously support the idea of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy as it did in October 2012?

If the Supreme Court strikes down Canada's law against assisted suicide or expresses support for assisting suicides of the incurably ill and severely disabled, what sort of message will that send? Parliament gives full support to suicide prevention for the healthy and able-bodied while the Supreme Court supports assisting the suicides of the sick and disabled, like me.

That is the message I will hear loud and clear. Public policies and laws do not exist in isolation; they must have consistency in their application.

Advocates of assisted suicide say people should be able to decide the time and place of their own deaths. If that is true, the "right" of autonomous self-determination applies equally to suicidal able-bodied people as to the sick and disabled. There is no place for a National Suicide Prevention Strategy or suicide prevention programs because they impose the "right to choose the time and place of one's own death."

The depressed suicidal person who is able-bodied and physically heathy may say their emotional pain is as bad (or worse) than my physical pain. Who can say with certainty it's not? The depressed or defeated suicidal person could ask for help killing themselves in fear they might botch their suicide.

Proponents of assisted suicide bolster their argument by citing section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: "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."


The very section they cite for security of the person undermines their argument about a "right to die." Section 7 begins by declaring the right to life; it says nothing about a right to death. Death is an eventuality not a right. The right to life is the first human right because all other rights become uncertain if the right to life is not protected.

The Supreme Court heard that incurably ill and severely disabled people need the option of assisted suicide because of unbearable pain. Not true. Pain management has become so advanced it can eliminate all physical pain.


Ottawa's Dr. John Scott is a world renowned palliative care and pain management specialist. He wrote: "The World Health Organization has demonstrated that access to pain-relieving drugs, along with a simple education program, can achieve relief in the vast majority of patients.

"Specialists in various parts of the world estimate that these basic approaches can control 85-98 per cent of cases. The remaining cases require more careful attention and the use of multiple drugs and therapies to achieve complete relief."

Those words were written in 1995. How much more has the wonderful science of pain relief progressed in these intervening 19 years? If someone is suffering great pain in 2014, they do not need suicide, they need a new doctor.


For a civilized society, the answer to suffering is never to kill the sufferer. Rather, it is to protect and care for them within state-of-the-art palliative care which must not include suicide or euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

As a Canadian who has been incurably ill and disabled for more than 30 years with degenerative multiple sclerosis (MS), I implore the Supreme Court not to strike down Canada's laws prohibiting assisted suicide. The laws are there to protect vulnerable people when they are at their lowest point of life and overwhelmed by their circumstances.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, the Catholic Church will continue to offer life with dignity to the sick, dying and disabled – even when their lives are at an end.