July 13, 2015

WINNIPEG – Canadians don't realize the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide will "include 25 year olds in car accidents who have lost the use of their legs," says a professor of law and bioethics.

"Canadians weren't wanting this," said Dr. Mary Shariff. "This has only come through this one case, it's not like the Canadian public is saying this is a big issue."

Shariff spoke at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Winnipeg recently. An assistant professor of law at the University of Manitoba, she was the 2011 recipient of the U of M's Centre on Aging research fellowship for a project on autonomy, dignity and end-of-life decision-making.

Shariff said in Oregon, Washington and Vermont, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, the patient is provided with a lethal prescription which he or she fills out at a pharmacy and then self-administers.

This method provides a built-in period of second thought, and it is not uncommon for the prescription never to be taken.

This is different than euthanasia or assisted suicide undertaken with the aid of another person, not necessarily a physician, as it is practised in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. There, a sedative is administered followed by a lethal injection to stop the heart.

Shariff said in the Benelux countries the laws around physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia have come about because of strong beliefs in individual autonomy, while in the U.S. it has been driven by a belief in death with dignity.


"What we hear in Canada is ultimately all this has been collapsed into the idea of self-determination," she said.

Shariff said in the Benelux countries euthanasia and assisted suicide are available to minors between the ages of 16 and 18, with the consent of the parents, if the minor is facing unbearable and constant physical or mental suffering.

The Supreme Court is allowing the federal and provincial governments until February to enact new legislation that upholds its ruling. The court also said no level of government is required to enact legislation.

Canada is basically embarking on law-making without public input, Shariff said.