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“Am I an Executioner or Am I a Surgeon?”

In a recent unanimous decision, the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a longstanding ban on doctor-aided death. The Court found that the ban violates a person’s right to life, liberty, and security of person under the Canadian Charter of Rights, if that person has an incurable condition that causes “enduring and intolerable suffering.”

While this decision demonstrates the growing global trend of people creating grey areas in the formerly black and white world of life and death, this case does have an upside.

For one thing, the ruling will not go into effect for a year, allowing the government to (hopefully) put into place the necessary safeguards to ensure the ruling is not abused. In addition, Canada appears to be simply wading in the shallow end versus swan diving into the deep end of doctor-aided death and euthanasia, allowing only a “stringently limited, carefully monitored system of exceptions.”

This is far cry from countries like Belgium, where both euthanasia (doctor administers drug) and doctor-aided death (doctor prescribes drug) are perfectly legal (for adults and children no less) and the limitations are few. In fact, a self-described unbearable degree of physical or mental suffering is enough of a reason for a “patient” to request and obtain a doctor-aided death in the country. Apparently, it doesn’t matter that thanks to good ol’ human emotions, circumstances can easily feel a lot worse in the moment than they actually are (Tom Mortier’s mother is a one such example).

Most importantly, the Court acknowledged the rights of physicians not to participate in the act of taking a life.

“In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada has expressly recognized that physicians have both conscience and religious freedom rights under the Charter that prevent them from being forced by regulators to participate in abortions or euthanasia,” said ADF-allied attorney Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson LLP, which represented clients supporting Canada’s existing laws.

Doctors are supposed to be healers. They do everything they can to save lives. Sometimes there is nothing more they can do, but when that time comes, their role should not change.

Perhaps the fictional Dr. Derek Shepherd said it best in an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy (bear with me). The episode features a serial killer on death row who is suffering from the after affects of an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself five days before he is supposed to be executed.  In a (completely unpredictable) twist, he turns out to be a perfect match for the organs needed by a young boy down the hall.

As the boy is about to die, another doctor begs Dr. Shepherd to stop performing the lifesaving brain surgery the serial killer needed so his organs could be given to the boy. After all, what’s five days? The man had said he wanted to die anyway.

Dr. Shepherd simply replies, “If I stop this surgery, it’s the same as me sticking this scalpel into his brain…Am I an executioner, or am I a surgeon?”

It’s something to think about for all those doctors out there.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.