Chapter 9: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide


Rodriquez v. British Columbia (Attorney General)

Understanding

  1. How, according to the majority opinion, does the law against aiding suicide uphold the sanctity of life?
  2. What role does the concept of autonomy play in the majority opinion’s summary?
  3. Why do Justices L’Heureux Dubé and McLachlin argue that the law against aiding suicide violated Rodriguez’s section 7 right to security of the person?
  4. Why does Justice Lamer argue that the law against aiding suicide violates Rodriguez’ section 15 right to equality before the law?

Evaluative

  1. Do you agree with the majority opinion that “respect for human dignity . . . is not a principle of fundamental justice within the meaning of s. 7”? Why or why not?
  2. Justice Cory claims that “There is no difference between permitting a patient of sound mind to choose death with dignity by refusing treatment and permitting a patient of sound mind who is terminally ill to choose death with dignity by terminating life preserving treatment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
  3. The majority opinion affirms that the prohibition against assisted suicide infringes rights of equality protected by section 15 of the Charter, but concludes that this infringement is just. In dissent, Lamer agrees that this prohibition is an infringement, but concludes that it is unjust. Justices L’Heureux Dubé’s and McLachlin’s deny that section 15 has any application in the case. Which of these three views do you think is correct, and why?
  4. Whereas Lamer claims that section 241(b) of the criminal code fails to meet the proportionality test, the majority opinion concludes that section 241(b) does meet the proportionality test. Who do you agree with, and why?

Catherine Frazee, “Affidavit of Catherine Frazee, Intervener, Ginette Leblanc v. Attorney General of Canada

Understanding

  1. Frazee distinguishes between autonomy and sovereignty. What does she mean by “autonomy”? What does she mean by “sovereignty”? What role does this distinction play in her essay?
  2. Why does Frazee think that “Suicide cannot be construed as a right to which a claim for equality can be made?”
  3. Why does Frazee think that suicide undermines human dignity and equality?
  4. Frazee writes, “The direct and immediate harm . . . occasioned by the availability of suicide assistance is perhaps not that too many people with disabilities will choose to die, but that too many of those who do make this choice will do so because of injustice, rather than autonomy.” Why does she say this?
  5. Frazee writes that “The threshold of human dignity is far too variable to be an appropriate condition for the termination of life.” What does she mean by this?

Evaluative

  1. Do you agree with Frazee’s distinction between autonomy and sovereignty? If yes, explain why. Do you think that her reasons for making this distinction are good grounds for prohibiting assisted suicide? Why or why not? In no, explain why. Do you think Frazee has good arguments for prohibiting assisted suicide beyond this distinction? Why or why not?
  2. Do you agree with Frazee that suicide cannot be a right? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think that prohibiting assisted suicide meaningfully addresses the devaluation of persons with disabilities? Why or why not?
  4. Is Frazee inconsistent when she claims the autonomy should not be compromised, yet autonomy must not undermine human dignity and equality? Why or why not?
  5. Does Frazee contradict herself when she writes that assisted suicide undermines human dignity, yet human dignity cannot act as a threshold for determining whether or not a life ought to be terminated? Why or why not?

Jocelyn Downie, “Dying Justice”

Understanding

  1. What does Downie say about the distinction between acts and omissions? How does this distinction shape her discussion of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia?
  2. What does Downie say about the distinction between natural and unnatural death? How does this distinction shape her discussion of assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia?
  3. Why does Downie talk about the doctrine of double effect?
  4. Why does Downie introduce the concept of bodily integrity? What role does it play in her discussion?
  5. Why does Downie reject sanctity of life arguments against euthanasia and assisted suicide?
  6. Why does Downie reject the “lack of necessity” argument against euthanasia and assisted suicide?

Evaluative

  1. Do you agree with Downie’s criticism of the act/omission distinction? Why or why not?
  2. Do you agree with Downie’s rejection of the natural/unnatural distinction? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree with Downie’s rejection of sanctity of life arguments against euthanasia and assisted suicide? Why or why not?
  4. Downie writes that “concerns about freedom cannot serve as the basis to keep assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia illegal in a regime that permits the withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment.” Why does she say this? Do you agree with her? Why or why not?
  5. In the first half of her essay, Downie criticizes the inconsistencies of legal permissions concerning assisted suicide and withholding lifesaving treatment. Do you think that consistency should inform decisions on the moral status of a practice? Why or why not?

Comparative

  1. How, if at all, does Downie’s argument that there is no relevant difference between causing death and “letting nature take its course” differ from Justice Cory’s view in Rodriguez that there is no relevant difference between refusing treatment and aiding suicide? Do you think one has better arguments? If so, which one and why?
  2. Frazee’s distinction between autonomy and sovereignty is similar to Downie’s distinction between autonomy and bodily integrity. However, they use these distinctions to arrive at different conclusions. Which of the two viewpoints do you think is more defensible, and why?
  3. Whereas Downie rejects sanctity of life arguments for assisted suicide, the majority opinion in the Rodriguez case finds the sanctity of life crucial to upholding the criminal status of assisted suicide. How does each reach the different conclusions that they do? Which do you think is more compelling, and why?
  4. Both Frazee and the majority opinion in Rodriguez seriously consider human dignity in their deliberations. Whereas Frazee appeals to human dignity to prohibit assisted suicide, the majority opinion in Rodriguez upholds the prohibition in spite of concerns surrounding human dignity. Which of these two views do you think is more defensible, and why?